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Indiana State Fair: What if the Site Was Moved 40 Years Ago?

Indiana State Fair: What if the Site Was Moved 40 Years Ago?
If in a different location, would the Indiana State Fairgrounds be more attractive to other users than it is today?

The Indiana State Fair opens later this week for a 17-day run, and it promises to be an exciting time. The renovated Coliseum is the crown jewel on display this year – the theme is even "The Year of the Coliseum."

A number of livestock events, including the 4-H grand drives for hogs, cattle and sheep and many 4-H livestock shows, will be held in the Coliseum. It will also be used for seven concerts, counting a free concert.

State Fair's crown jewel: The remodeled coliseum will be one of the highlights of this year's fair. It's now a grand building which anchors the rest of the fair.

Touring the Coliseum you still get a feeling of history because the exterior shell was preserved. But you get the amenities of many modern arenas, with better access to restrooms, seating and refreshment areas via a concourse and a second level. It's a building to be proud of.

It's also an investment which likely locks the fair into its present location on 38th Street on the near east side of Indianapolis. It's not the most attractive neighborhood for enticing other events to come to the fair during the rest of the year.

If anyone saw the movie "America: What if America Never Existed?" they can appreciate the concept of reflecting on what might have been: good, bad or indifferent. What fi the state fairgrounds had been moved to the outskirts of a growing city decades ago?

Traffic getting to the current site is one thing, but the crime wave sweeping Indianapolis this summer also takes in the area where the state fair is located. While we're not aware of any specific incidents at the fair, some of the worst crimes in recent months have occurred from 30th street north on the east side.

There was an opportunity many years ago, or so people with knowledge of history have told me, when the fair might possibly have been moved to a different location. With the new Interstates built then, including I-70 and I-65, land was available to establish a new state fairgrounds. The benefit would have been easy access by interstate and moving away from the inner city. Think about the Expo Center which is the Kentucky State Fairgrounds site in Louisville, located just off the Interstate, and imagine what might have been.

For whatever reason politics didn't flow that way in Indiana back then. Tradition held strong. If anyone thought about moving the fair then, it didn't get traction. Hindsight is 20/20, and it's easy to imagine a site off one of the exits either at the edge of Marion County or into a doughnut county that would have easy access like the Kentucky site.

The problem, of course, is that everything is exponentially higher today, including buildings, land and the cost of moving. The Coliseum renovation, costing more than $60 million dollars including the Youth Arena attached to it, likely cemented the fact that the fairgrounds will remain where it is for the forseeable future.

Unfortunately, there's little gained in living in a world of what might have been. The fact is that everyone, from fair management to fairgoers to livestock exhibitors, have learned to adapt, and will continue to adapt, to the current location.

There are a lot of traditions associated with the Indiana State Fair besides the Coliseum. The grand livestock drive is one example. The Indiana State Fair Board, with directors elected by ag-related groups throughout the state for some positons and with the rest appointed by the governor, is another tradition. These hard-working individuals are visible during the fair, each in charge of a livestock department or other large responsibility at the fair.

One thing the current location does is help preserve these and other traditions, including the track at the fairgrounds and the 'new-but-old' Coliseum. If you haven't been to the fair lately, this would be a great year to visit, and celebrate traditions of the past which have been reinvented, such as the Coliseum.

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