Both the Illinois State Fair and the Du Quoin State Fair are on the National Historic Register, as are their many Art Deco/Art Moderne buildings, the earliest of which was constructed in 1894.
They are historic in their architecture, agriculturally significant in their showcasing of Illinois’ number one industry, and socially and economically important to the communities that surround them.
In an August 2016 proclamation celebrating the formation of the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, Governor Bruce Rauner noted that many of the Fairgrounds buildings are in “dire need” of mechanical and structural repairs. He said the collaboration between the state and the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation “will enable the state to more efficiently and effectively maintain the decades-old structures in need of repair,” and that accepting private donations that will allow for building upgrades, facility infrastructure improvements, and new facility construction.
The first Illinois State Fair was in October 1853, followed by 40 years of cities throughout the state competing to host the annual event. It was not until 1894 that the state acquired property on Springfield’s North Side to provide the first permanent location for the annual exposition. Construction started that year on several fairgrounds buildings, including the Exposition Building, which is the only original structure remaining.
First incorporated in 1923, the Du Quoin State Fair was privately owned and operated until the 1980s when it was acquired by the State of Illinois to showcase the heritage of Southern Illinois. The original half-mile track dates to 1923, although most of the fairgrounds’ structures were built during the 1940s.
These are premier exposition grounds in Springfield and Du Quoin, hosting annual fairs that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors – and their entertainment dollars annually. The Illinois State Fair itself has an estimated annual economic impact of $86 million in the Capital City, while the Du Quoin State Fair boosts the local economy by $6 million.
Whether it’s corn dogs, blue ribbons, rock and country concerts or horse and auto racing you like, there’s something for nearly everyone at the State Fair. But you can also find tons of events at those same fairgrounds once the fairs end.
The impact and importance of the fairgrounds go far beyond the annual state fair festivities in August and September. Each year, dozens of outside organizations rent facilities at the fairgrounds for their non-fair events. In 2016, non-fair usage of the fairgrounds in Springfield totaled 527 event days with an estimated 175,000 attendance. In Du Quoin, use of fair facilities came to 146 days, with more than 69,500 attendees.
Many of the buildings and barns at the fairgrounds must be improved if Illinois is to have great State Fairs and to maintain the quality trade expositions, races, horse shows and other entertainment opportunities that have come to call the fairgrounds their home locations.
That is the purpose of the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, a not-for-profit organization formed by agricultural leaders in collaboration with the state to help raise the funds necessary to upgrade and improve these treasured structures.
Although the list of needed improvement projects is lengthy and costly, well beyond the state’s current means, Department of Agriculture officials have identified two structures as the first priorities for Foundation-assisted renovations that will allow them to continue to serve generation of visitors in Springfield and Du Quoin.
At the Illinois State Fair, the Coliseum, first constructed in 1901, is renowned for its use for national and regional horse shows and other grand events. In October 2016, the facility was closed down when workers noticed a loose ceiling beam, leaving the 116-year-old building structurally unsafe after years of deterioration. Corroded steel beams, roof leaks, and missing bolts and screws in support beams have been discovered. The necessary structural improvements are initially estimated to cost nearly $3.7 million. The Coliseum will remain closed and unavailable for the private non-fair events throughout 2017, though State Fair officials are working toward an on-site alternative.
At the Du Quoin State Fair, the fair’s grandstand has also been identified as needing significant structural repairs, which are estimated to cost about $2.1 million. Built in 1947, the Art Deco-styled Grandstand and its one-mile track were once the long-time home of the Hambletonian Stakes, a premier harness-racing event for Standardbeds. The facility now hosts harness racing, automobile races and country western/rock musical concerts during the annual fair, which traditionally concludes on Labor Day. In addition, the fairgrounds hosts other events throughout the year on its sprawling 750 acres.
Together, the two fairgrounds have $180 million in deferred maintenance costs. The Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation is an avenue for fair enthusiasts, agri-business companies and associations, and indeed all Illinoisans, to help ensure these outstanding facilities are restored and modernized for future generations.
In his proclamation, Governor Rauner said, “I look forward to collaboration between Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation and the Department of Agriculture, and urge all Illinoisans to be part of the restoration of their Fairgrounds.”