November 9, 2021
At the 2021 Illinois State Fair, the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln announced a partnership, which will result in renovating the state fairgrounds for hosting events year-round.
“Most people are familiar with the 10 days of state fair, but we have hundreds of events that take place throughout the year,” says Jeremy Flynn, IDOA chief of staff. Events occurring on the fairgrounds include livestock shows, horse shows, dog shows, farmers markets, weddings and state police officer trainings.
The Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln is a grant-making organization serving Sangamon, Cass, Christian, Logan, Macoupin, Menard, Montgomery and Morgan counties, says John Stremsterfer, CFLL president and CEO. The CFLL is built by hundreds of funds established by local citizens who want to see better things in their community.
Flynn says state government is able to fund capital improvements and invest in the infrastructure of the fairgrounds itself, but sometimes the money necessary to look at the finer details of the grounds is unavailable.
This is where the IDOA and CFLL partnership comes into play.
The partnership is part of a CFLL-sponsored community visioning project called The Next 10, Flynn says.
The Next 10 project is spearheaded for the Springfield area by the CFFL and sponsored by several donors in the region, Stremsterfer says. Residents in the area submit ideas for what should be funded to receive an analytical plan for improvements. The CFLL chooses the final 10 projects from these submissions.
“When it was time to choose, there was a lot of neat ideas that could be done to the fairgrounds,” he says. “While the fairgrounds is active year-round, there are still parts of the site that are dormant outside of the state fair. So, the idea is to analyze those areas and suggest a plan to enhance the fairgrounds for better year-round use.”
Finer details of fairgrounds
“For the community to choose the fairgrounds as one of their 10 projects that they would like to invest in — I think we take a lot of pride in that,” Flynn says.
For the fairgrounds, The Next 10 means investing in the finer details.
With help from folks at the CFLL, the fairgrounds will be reevaluated from a global and strategic standpoint — not so much to determine how things can be done better, but what resources are necessary to take the site to the next level for hosting events all year long, Flynn explains. That’s the goal of a strategic plan of improvements and developments based on a multi-year study for the fairgrounds.
The strategic plan will be conducted by a chosen consulting firm and funded solely by the CFLL, Stremsterfer says. He hopes a plan will be completed within a year, but analyzing the fairgrounds in its entirety could take longer.
Improvements outlined in the plan could mean small investments such as larger fans in the show rings to enhance the experience for exhibitors and attendees, Flynn says. And there are opportunities to welcome other events such as an international antique truck show in the spring of 2022.
After the strategic plan from a firm has laid out ideas for enhancing the fairgrounds, IDOA and state government will decide which projects will be initiated and funding availability, Stremsterfer says.
He adds that renovations to the fairgrounds means connection to Illinois agriculture.
Illinois is a huge agricultural state, Flynn says. Results of the project will enhance the facility experience in a way that continues to showcase the history and roots of Illinois as a premier agricultural state in the country.
“For the larger state of Illinois, I hope that this planning process will kind of capture the imagination of people throughout Illinois and how we can maybe reimagine what the fairgrounds should be for the next 150 years,” Stremsterfer says.
“From IDOA’s view, this is a recognition of the community’s willingness to step in and support what is a pretty unique economic engine for the region,” Flynn says. “We try to be good partners with the community, but it really is nice when it seems to be felt on the other side as well.”
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