|$30M funds Illinois State Fairgrounds ‘resurgence’
|SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Major renovations to buildings, roads, and other infrastructure on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield are progressing on schedule, with many upgrades scheduled for completion before the start of this year’s State Fair.
This is according to Warren Goesch, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), who said the work is being funded through $30 million made available by the Capital Development Board through the state’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget.
“The primary use of that has been for the rehabilitation of the Coliseum. We have also extended a small portion of that for road work that was done last year. Main Street, Central Avenue, Grandstand Avenue, and Illinois Avenue were all resurfaced,” Goesch said.
As for the Coliseum, which was designed in 1901 by a Peoria architectural firm, skilled laborers are restabilizing roof support columns and removing portions of steel from the bases of columns, for replacement and reinforcement. Loose bolts and plates have been replaced, and a portion of the wooden roof deck was removed and replaced with steel.
“The skeleton, if you will, has now been completely redone and now we have started to put back the decking that the roofing material will be placed onto,” said Goesch, referring to the Coliseum project as a “complete rebuild.”
Ongoing projects include roof repair to the fairgrounds’ Livestock Building, with crews now replacing interior surfaces affected by damage. In the IDOA John R. Block Building, boiler flues have been replaced.
Roof repairs have been completed to Racehorse Barn 41, and bids are open for repairs to the historic Dairy Building roof, as well as 16 “25 Series” barns located north of the Coliseum. The Dairy Building is scheduled for roof replacement before the Springfield fairgrounds opens for the State Fair’s August 8-18 run, while repairs to the horse barn roofs will be ongoing.
Roof repairs are also planned for the Emerson Building, Illinois Building, and Exposition Building. Other plans call for foundation and canopy repairs to the Multi-Purpose Arena, where rodeos and tractor pulls are held. An architecture firm has been hired to recommend changes to the structure.
“Hopefully, after the (2019) fair we will be moving on with those,” said Goesch.
The IDOA will again be working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to facilitate road resurfacing at both Springfield and the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds.
“The good news is they will be able to do some resurfacing in Du Quoin before the (August 23) opening of that fair,” he said. “More repairs to the Springfield fairgrounds’ roads will occur before the end of this year.”
Ongoing Du Quoin projects include stabilization work to the grandstand and ductwork inside the Southern Illinois Center. A rehabilitation of the Governor’s Mansion, or Hay Home, on the fairgrounds is also underway.
Although the $30 million – appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly as part of former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s final budget – is going a long way toward fairgrounds upgrades, the IDOA has made a recent capital request of the General Assembly for an additional $33 million for more upgrades to both fairgrounds.
The money would be allocated for road repairs, ventilation work, HVAC work, grandstand repairs, tuck-pointing in brick fairgrounds structures, electrical system upgrades, and other rehabilitation projects, according to Goesch.
Kevin Gordon, who is returning as Illinois State Fair manager under Gov. JB Pritzker, said when he left the IDOA in 2017 many of the century-or-more-old buildings on the fairgrounds were literally crumbling around him. “Watching the fairgrounds now, you are seeing a resurgence. I am just proud to be a part of it.”
The theme of the 2019 fair is “Building Our Future,” a slogan that Gordon said fits well with the visible upgrades occurring on the fairgrounds.
“There are a lot of great things happening this year. Our grandstand lineup is taking off. This year we are blowing attendance records out of the water, with almost 27,000 tickets sold the first weekend. We had set the record in 2017, but only 17,000 tickets were sold on the opening weekend,” he noted.
The grandstand lineup features a diverse sampling of genres, from country queen Reba McEntire to rapper Snoop Dogg and headbangers Megadeth serving as headliners. “The only tickets we have left for Reba are obstructed-view,” Gordon added.
Changes in store for 2019 fairgoers include lower weekday admission prices. Adults may now enter for just $5 on weekdays, a 50 percent reduction in price.
“In 2015 our adult entry price was $7. In 2016 we increased that to $10 and we lost over 49,000 paid adults. I took a look at our data and decided to charge $5 per adult on weekdays and $10 only on weekends,” he said.
Look for the return of the popular high-dive artists that thrilled fairgoers in past years, and an expansion of free entertainment to 13 stages around the fairgrounds.
Four new carnival rides are being supplied by North American Midway Entertainment, including a double-decked “menagerie carousel” with a 40-foot imprint. One of only two such amusements traveling the U.S. carnival circuit, the ride was voted among the most popular at the Florida State Fair, Gordon noted.
Through the years, the fair has offered one of the most extensive agricultural shows in the country. The 366-acre fairgrounds will be host to agricultural attractions such as livestock judging, harness racing, wine and food tasting, a new and improved Agriculture Tent – and of course, the Butter Cow, located in the Dairy Building.
Other attractions of interest to those in agriculture include a draft horse show, truck and tractor pulls, “Ag Tours” of the fairgrounds, and the Governor’s Sale of Champions.
The Illinois State Fair official website contains links to the Agriculture Tent, grandstand events, harness racing schedule, Butter Cow, and many other fair attractions new and old. Visit www2.illinois.gov/statefair