GB FAIRGROUNDS

A Great Barrington couple is offering to buy the fairgrounds for a housing and small retail complex. Judd and Susan Shoval say they will clean up the property and donate part of it to the town for public use.

GREAT BARRINGTON — After several years of wrangling over the fate of the fairgrounds, town officials announced that a local couple has made an offer to buy and redevelop the property, and donate the other part to the town for public use.

Town Manager Mark Pruhenski told the Select Board on Monday that Shoval Enterprises, a real estate investment firm run by town residents Judd and Susan Shoval, possibly will develop the frontage of the 41-acre fairgrounds into housing and small retail. They also propose donating 15 to 20 acres of the eastern side near the Housatonic River to the town so it can link the Great Barrington Land Conservancy’s north/south walking trail, have a picnic area, and possibly build a dog park and ice skating rink.

“Whatever we would like to use that space for,” he said.

Pruhenski noted the Shovals also said they would clean up the deteriorating property and racetrack buildings.

“I just wanted to announce that that offer is on the table, and my hope is that we can work something out with the fairgrounds board so that that property benefits everyone in town,” he said.

The property is assessed by the town at $1.1 million.

The announcement comes after a decade of hand-wringing over the property, which lay dormant for years after decades of horse racing and agricultural fairs.

In 2012, Bart and Janet Elsbach bought it for $800,000, and created a nonprofit with the intent of resuscitating it into a community resource. They leased 3 acres of it to a commercial solar company for energy credits that benefit local low-income housing.

Then a lease optioned in 2018 to Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC for its new thoroughbred track brought hope and anger, as horse racing opponents battled supporters of returning races. The company said in January that it had changed its plans.

The town’s attempt to buy it for a town park of some sort set off a new dust-up last month between town officials and the Elsbachs, who said in a letter to the editor that they had been maligned unfairly as officials sharply criticized their silence regarding their intent to buy the property.

Then the Shovals stepped in. And this isn’t the first time they have offered to enhance public spaces.

In December, Pruhenski announced that the couple would replace the playground equipment at Lake Mansfield’s beach, one of the town’s most popular recreation areas.

The Shovals could not be reached for comment.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871. On Twitter @BE_hbellow.