DuPage County considering best use of fairgrounds
By Hank Beckman For Sun-Times Media October 3, 2013 9:01PM
The DuPage County Board recently convened a committee to determine the best use of the DuPage County fairgrounds. The annual fair recently celebrated 60 years. The DuPage County Fair Association's lease with the county expires in 2020. | Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2013 6:31AM
The DuPage County Board isn’t sure what to do with the 42 acres used for the annual fair — but members are looking into it.
While no one in county government supports terminating the lease with the DuPage County Fair Association when it expires in 2020, it remains a definite possibility.
“What we are embarking on is an evaluation of an asset of the taxpayer,” County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said Wednesday morning.
Cronin convened the first meeting of local business leaders to analyze the best use of the county-owned fairground property, just east of the county government campus.
Cronin tapped Choose DuPage President and CEO Greg Bedalov to lead the nine-person committee specializing in real estate development, including Nick Ryan, of Naperville-based Marquette Companies, the driving force behind the Water Street development.
The DuPage County Fair Association signed its first lease with the county in 1961 and recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the DuPage County Fair.
From the beginning, the county has charged $1,350 a year for use of the property. It also includes 12 acres between the campus and the fairgrounds, which contains a parking structure and stormwater detention facility.
Originally a 50-year lease was in place until 2011, but the agreement was re-worked in 1976 and continues until 2020. The buildings on the property belong to the DuPage County Fairground Association.
DuPage County Fair Commission President Jim McGuire made it clear to the group that the DuPage County Fair will be homeless without the fairgrounds.
“We do not have the financial wherewithal to develop another 40-acre fairgrounds,” he said. “We just don’t.
McGuire also stressed that every inch of the property is used during the annual five-day fair.
Other than low rent, the association receives no subsidy from the county, although McGuire stressed that “they are a good landlord.”
Because the fair devotes significant energy to agricultural education, the association does receive some grant money from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. But the lingering effects of the economic downturn of the last decade have put even that revenue in jeopardy.
“That subsidy has been cut significantly,” McGuire said.
The association has four full-time employees and depends largely on volunteers for the operation of the fair.
McGuire said that, to make ends meet, the grounds are regularly leased to a number of other organizations, including tennis clubs, soccer leagues, baseball programs, charities, 4-H clubs and other organizations.
But with damage from a windstorm two years ago requiring about $400,000 in electrical improvements, other sources of revenue are still needed.
“We’ve added the sales of liquor,” McGuire said.
McGuire acknowledged the fair’s agricultural orientation in a community that is no longer agricultural in nature.
“The history agriculture plays is very important to the county,” he said, urging the committee to honor that history.
After the meeting, McGuire said he looks forward to the process but anticipates that some in the county will want to develop the property.
“For many years, the county would like to see a development use,” he said.
Cronin said he does not “have any predetermined ideas at all” about the ultimate use of the property, but was adamant that it was the county’s responsibility to determine the best use of it.
With its older buildings, many designed to accommodate livestock, the fairground’s appearance has long been a sore point with some.
“I don’t think it’s the most aesthetically pleasing sight in the world,” Cronin said.
County Board member Laurie Nowak pointed out that, because the property is owned by the taxpayers, she wants to hear the viewpoints of other community stakeholders, not just from the business community.
“I would like to see a little more community participation,” she said.