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New state fair “master plan” focuses on year-round use, possible hotel, racino

Monday, Jun 17, 2024 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Press release…

The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), in partnership with the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln, has released a new master plan for the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield aimed at maintaining the core functions of the Fairgrounds while increasing its year-round events, attendance, and revenue generation.

“The Illinois State Fairgrounds draw hundreds of thousands of visitors from all around the world,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “When combined with the $58.1 million we invested in repairs and improvements, this master plan not only creates a future-focused blueprint for continued growth and success, but it also ensures that the Illinois State Fairgrounds are among the best in the nation.”

The partnership to develop a master plan was spurred from a local community visioning initiative called The Next 10 that the Community Foundation launched in 2020 to spark fresh conversations about the Greater Springfield Area’s future. Reimagining the State Fairgrounds emerged as a centerpiece of The Next 10 because of its potential to ignite social and economic activity across the region.

“It is our responsibility to plan today for a strong and prosperous future for the Illinois State Fairgrounds,” said IDOA Director Jerry Costello II. “Partnering with the Community Foundation allowed us to develop thoughtful long-term options to revitalize the Fairgrounds and ensure that generations to come enjoy these 366 acres that showcase Illinois agriculture, the state’s number one industry.”

Proposed improvements to the Fairgrounds include the creation of a “Town Square” south of the Midway to improve aesthetics and navigability of the grounds, development of an onsite hotel property, and expanded staffing to include dedicated sales and marketing functions.

The hotel, if deemed feasible, would be inside Gate 10, which is on Sangamon Ave. near the western edge of the fairgrounds. The plan also suggests a future Racino, “if desired.”

* More from the master plan

Facility Program & Master Plan Recommendations

Facility & Site Strategies

    A. Existing pole barns (opposite Grandstand) and Junior Home Economics Building should be removed.
    B. Consider 2 tiers of facilities – those that can attract higher-impact events and the balance that are more affordable and appeal to ag-oriented activities.
    C. Although a detailed building analysis was not conducted, renovation of Exposition, Orr, Artisans and Illinois Buildings should be undertaken. Bathroom facilities across the campus need improvement.
    D. Conservation World should be cherished and preserved.
    E. Route 66 attraction, as proposed, will attract year-round visitation to the Fairgrounds site.
    F. Happy Hollow should be enhanced.
    G. Proximity and access of parking to facilities needs to be improved. Flooding issues in the infield should also be mitigated to support parking.
    H. Campgrounds could be expanded to support events and 365-day utilization.
    I. An onsite hotel property with ~200 keys should be contemplated (subject to a detailed market and feasibility analysis).

Operational Improvements

    A. Critical to ongoing success is to expand staffing to include dedicated sales and marketing functions.
    B. Consider a dedicated funding source.
    C. Pursue opportunities for additional partnerships and sponsorships, not only of the Fair but of the Fairgrounds themselves.

Campus Strategies

    A. Create a “town square” south of the Midway and develop intentional,
    streetscaped “pedestrian malls” - enhance the customer experience and
    eliminate “front door”/ “back door” issues.
    B. Enhance the entry experience.
    C. Improve curb appeal - upgraded and updated fencing and enhanced
    D. From a thematic standpoint, all Fairgrounds facilities and uses should be
    E. Create a cohesive and navigable wayfinding system.

Big Ideas for the Future

    A. Develop a new +/- 200,000 SF multi-purpose venue that will be a statement building.
    B. Industrial property at the northeast of the Fairgrounds, should be acquired and used for empty trailer parking.
    C. If desired, a Racino could be contemplated on the Fairgrounds property



  1. - fs - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 1:35 pm:

    There’s no real reason it can’t be used more outside of the State Fair. Especially the grandstand, which needs to be modernized to attract better events. Maybe it’s just foggy hindsight, but a remember a lot more events there years ago. I’m not sure they even use it for motorcycle races on Memorial Day weekend anymore.

    In terms of “enhancing the entry experience” , when the main carnival was in Happy Hallow stepping inside the fairgrounds through the main gate, or even driving by on Sangamon Avenue, was an entirely different scene than today.

  2. - Skeptic - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 1:36 pm:

    How about a domed stadium? Just kidding of course.

    “Create a cohesive and navigable wayfinding system.” Even if it’s just that, it’s a step forward. “Where is the band playing?” “At the blah-blah-blah stage.” “Where’s that?” “Um…go past the lemonade stand, turn left at the donkeys, but don’t go too far or you’ll run into the pigs…”

  3. - Give Me A Break - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 1:38 pm:

    Interesting and much needed for sure.

    Other than the usual turf guarding and power trips, could never understand why the city and state didn’t form a partnership and build what is now the BOS center on the fairgrounds and make it twice the size with the ability to host larger concerts and events.

  4. - NonAFSCMEStateEmployeeFromChatham - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 1:38 pm:

    Looking forward to hearing Madonia’s reaction to this master plan on AM Springfield in the near future. He has long been a proponent of a Springfield casino, including at the fairgrounds.

  5. - Merica - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 1:40 pm:

    hotels fare poorly in Springfield (See wyndham, statehouse inn, Crowne Plaza) yet there is a constant drum beat to build them. the entire north side of springfield is undergoing a long and slow contraction, that can’t be reversed by initiating one or two projects, and likely can’t be reversed at all. DOA’s best hope is to make small improvements and maintain the property (which is a big enough challenge).

  6. - Cool Papa Bell - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 1:49 pm:

    It’s an appealing master plan.

    I do think all of the “open” barns in between the swine building and the grandstand need to go. Many years ago there was a plan to level that area and build a large show barn structure.

    Indiana just opened a $50 million swine barn. Now it will also host National Indoor Track and Field Competitions, but it’s air conditioned and an amazing event space and it was full of pigs last week.

    Illinois might not need a $50 million “barn” but more improvements and new structures are needed.

  7. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 2:00 pm:

    ===I’m not sure they even use it for motorcycle races on Memorial Day weekend anymore.===

    Maybe a quick google before commenting here?

  8. - Downstate - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 2:20 pm:

    Are there any structures that would allow for indoor pickleball? Regional pickleball tourneys could be a draw.

  9. - Nick Name - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 2:31 pm:

    I had to look up “racino”: “A racino is a combined horse racing track, or other live parimutuel betting facility, and casino.”

    There’s a demand for this?

    ===Bathroom facilities across the campus need improvement.===

    Understatement of the century.

  10. - NonAFSCMEStateEmployeeFromChatham - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 2:41 pm:

    ===Bathroom facilities across the campus need improvement.===

    Whenever I have been in the men’s room near the Labor Pavilion, it always makes me think about the men’s room at Wrigley Field. At least prior to the Ricketts renovations.

  11. - MuddyPrairie - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 2:42 pm:

    Did DoA subcontract this out to their partner? Cause absent a walk through and inventory of the grounds and the fairly healthy non-fair events calendar this seems like it isn’t that useful. Master planning should include a collection of actionable data on asset condition and input from stakeholders. It would also be nice to be able to read the master plan. The link in the press release gives me a notice that says I do not have permission to access. Any idea where the masterplan could be viewed?

  12. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 2:46 pm:

    ===Indiana just opened a $50 million swine barn===

    One of Wordslinger’s pet peeves was that Illinois has some of the world’s largest agribusiness companies (John Deere, Kraft, Caterpillar, ADM, etc., etc., etc.) and none of them play a major role at the state fair, which is supposed to showcase agriculture.

  13. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 2:48 pm:

    ===Any idea where the masterplan could be viewed? ===

    It’s linked twice above, but here you go again

  14. - MuddyPrairie - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 2:50 pm:

    Thank you Rich, apparently it will work if you copy and paste full address into address bar.

  15. - Cool Papa Bell - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 3:04 pm:

    ===Indiana just opened a $50 million swine barn===

    That barn in Indiana has the naming rights held by the Indiana Farm Bureau.

    I do agree with Wordslinger’s pet peeve. The fair foundation has never been able to land a multi-million dollar donation.

  16. - Annonin' - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 3:05 pm:

    Racino 0r at least a year round OBT at Fairgrounds has been kicked around for years and there was stronger talk with the 2019 gaming bill. Decision of Churchill downs to destroy Arlington with the McCaskey’s and the special for the Carey’s on track expansion had chilling impact. Given the # of events at Fairgrounds a 200 room hotel probably works too.

  17. - Demoralized - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 3:11 pm:

    ==apparently it will work==

    Still doesn’t work for me. Clicking or copying. Still says need permission.

  18. - Joe Schmoe - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 3:24 pm:

    Link doesn’t work for me, either.

  19. - Sangamo Girl - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 3:55 pm:

    The link appears to be a state Illinois SharePoint site. You usually need either credentials or an invite to get in.

  20. - fs - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 4:58 pm:

    ==Maybe a quick google before commenting here?==

    I know it’s still there Labor Day weekend, but it used to be Memorial Day and Labor Day. Maybe it’s the racing circuits decision, maybe not, but either way that’s a big tourist event weekend that no longer happens.

  21. - Eddie - Monday, Jun 17, 24 @ 8:36 pm:

    Springfield needs a downtown university with college sports programs that compete with Champaign to succeed. Small time gambling will help but it won’t create a critical mass of people in town. Econ Dev should solely focus on the downtown.

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