A deal struck Monday is intended to brand the Lake County Fairgrounds as a go-to venue between the big cities of Chicago and Milwaukee for music and other entertainment.
"We've got a five-year contract with them with some options. We're going to put a lot of effort and probably a lot of money into it," said Mark Khayat, owner of the Austin's Saloon & Eatery in Libertyville.
Austin's Fuel Room is a well-known 750-seat venue that features live music. Khayat, through his Fuel Inc., promotes bands in other states and has been looking for a bigger space that would be available on a regular basis for musical acts.
The agreement gives Khayat exclusive entertainment rights at the fairgrounds on Peterson Road, west of Route 45 in Grayslake, and he intends to brand it as Austin's Fuel Arena at the Lake County Fairgrounds.
"We're parlaying off what we do here at Austin's," he said. Fuel Inc. will pay an unspecified charge per show, as well as a portion of beverage sales.
The fairgrounds in 2009 replaced the long-standing facilities at routes 120 and 45 a few miles north in Grayslake. The Lake County Fair Association, which oversees the operations and organizes the annual fair for which it is best known, has been looking for ways to maximize the investment.
"We really don't have the means to promote concerts or take the risk of promoting them," said Kelli Kepler-Yarc, fair association president.
"It opens us up for a lot more people coming out to our fairgrounds. He's made a reputation and name for himself in the entertainment industry," she added.
Khayat said he would utilize the outdoor areas, as well as the Expo Hall main building, to accommodate crowds of 3,000 or more.
"We are making a music facility on the fairgrounds itself. We're going to tweak the outside and create a little better atmosphere for music," he said.
Khayat said he would pursue some "big productions" for the venue.
"We definitely will be going after country, expanding on the rock stuff. I wouldn't rule out any entertainment," he said.
In 2009, Khayat arranged a concert by country singer Dirks Bentley at the Libertyville Sports Complex. While the event was a success, the sports complex is heavily booked and does not allow the flexibility to respond quickly to sign musical acts, he said.