Renovating the Illinois State Fairgrounds and making the facility available year-round is one of the goals of the next 10 planning documents released in May 2021 by the Lincoln Local Community Foundation (CFLL). A comprehensive plan for the fairgrounds is currently being drawn up.
CFLL consulted with the National Association of Agricultural Fair Agencies to identify a consulting firm with the expertise to lead the planning process. CH Johnson Consulting, Inc., based in Chicago, was selected to complete its analysis in May of this year and provide recommendations by the end of the year. Their expertise is in strategic planning, market analysis, and finance. The company has experience working at state fairs across the country. CFLL is leading this initiative in partnership with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and is investing approximately $200,000. The goal is to make the fairgrounds a more important economic, cultural and recreational powerhouse for Springfield and the state.
The fairgrounds cover 366 acres and have 165 structures. CFLL President and CEO John Stremsterfer said: Many areas are underutilized, and maintenance deferrals are imminent. “Planning is key,” he says Stremsterfer. “Comprehensive planning leads to greater cohesion and the ability to think more.”
The master planning process is now in full swing. This project included an analysis of all on-site facilities and infrastructure, current and potential economic impacts, program offerings and opportunities outside of the State Fair, and underutilized land on-site. will be The final report includes recommendations for potential use of undeveloped land, priority facility and infrastructure issues to be addressed, partnership opportunities for economic development, and ensuring long-term success and sustainability. Includes operational issues for
Charles Johnson, president and CEO of Johnson Consulting, says every trade show is different. The study also includes comparisons with other trade fair venues. Illinois is unique in that state fairs are administered by state agencies. Some trade fairs are run by foundations or public-private partnerships. Illinois’ state fair and fairgrounds are treasures, Johnson said, and there’s a great opportunity to improve all areas of the site and increase the fairground’s “curb appeal” for surrounding communities. Illinois has a strong horse and livestock market, and the fairgrounds host many related activities throughout the year. People are probably surprised at how much economic impact the fairgrounds already have and provide the foundation to build on.
Due to the lack of a state capital budget for many years, deferred maintenance has been a major issue at the fairgrounds. Now the state has pledged more than $50 million to him for equipment upgrades. The exterior of the Colosseum was completed last year and Phase 2 is currently underway, including a new he HVAC that will allow the Colosseum to be used all year round. The multipurpose arena has received an $8 million upgrade including a new canopy. Roads and roofs have been improved throughout the site. These projects are making an impact, but there is still much more to do. Johnson said the quality of what’s happening at the Coliseum should be a target for other improvements so that the physical grounds can be on par with surrounding states.
Many people and organizations are interested in the future of trade fairs. Thousands of service organizations participate in the State Fair each year. Both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources are headquartered at the fairgrounds, creating opportunities. The Illinois State Fairgrounds is the only state fair on Route 66, and a new sign at Gate 2 marks this connection. Illinois is home to many agribusiness companies, so there is an opportunity to deepen your connections with Chicago and businesses.
The planning project team wants to know what the public thinks. Anyone using the fairgrounds and interested in their future is encouraged to complete the survey available at https://bit.ly/statefairsurvey. QR codes with links to surveys will be posted on benches and flyers throughout the fairgrounds during the State Fair. The planning team will also host workshops and focus groups in Springfield this fall to solicit public input.
Stremsterfer said he is proud of the CFLL for leading the initiative to reimagine the Illinois State Fairgrounds as a center of year-round social and economic activity for the city and community. “Lack of planning hampers progress,” he says Stremsterfer. He says it’s exciting to see what develops when creative minds come together.
Karen Ackerman Witter Illinois Times. She grew up going to the Illinois State Fair every summer. A favorite memory is the 1968 grandstand show when The Who opened for her favorite band, The Association.