The ball is finally rolling at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
The 2019 fiscal year budget approved by Gov. Bruce Rauner on June 4 included $30 million for fairground improvements in Springfield and $164,000 for Du Quoin capital improvements. “Gov. Rauner is committed to fixing and repairing our state fairgrounds,” says Rebecca Clark, communications manager at the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “It is the department’s hope that others will take note of this commitment and join our efforts by donating to the Fairgrounds Foundation.”
“I think everybody, including IDOA and state fair employees, has a little bounce in their step this week,” says John Slayton, Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation chairman. “I don’t think anyone really thought it would happen, but it was a very pleasant surprise.”
The $30 million budget for fairgrounds improvements follows the $7 million emergency funds released by the Capital Development Board for Coliseum rehabilitation. The Livestock Center, Barn 13, Barn 41 and Orion Samuelson Jr. Livestock Building also received emergency funds for repairs.
“The kick-start has happened,” Slayton says, adding that more funds are needed to cover the $180 million in deferred maintenance at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield and the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds. “That money will go a long way, but it’s really a drop in the bucket when you look at the $180 million need.”
Slayton expects roofs, roads, heating and cooling issues will be top priorities on the fairgrounds. “You may not see anything at this year’s fair, but you certainly will by next year’s fair.”
DAMAGE: A series of 2-by-6 boards holds the roof up on the Coliseum, where leaks have caused support beams to rot.
What about the remaining financial needs? The Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation will continue fundraising, like this Saturday’s 5K in conjunction with the Illinois State Fair Corn Dog Kickoff, and reaching out to potential sponsors for naming rights to buildings like the Livestock Center, Expo Building and Grandstand. Slayton says companies have already expressed interest in the swine building, the Grandstand and the Coliseum.
For now, the state budget support will create much-needed momentum for the fairgrounds.
“I give credit to Gov. Rauner,” Slayton says. “He has always been a strong supporter of agriculture and the fairgrounds.”