The question of whether to someday find a new home for the DuPage County Fair won’t be answered until officials decide what to do with the existing fairgrounds in Wheaton.
To help them make that decision, county officials are enlisting a group of real estate experts to explore whether there’s a more productive use for the 42-acre site along Manchester Road, which the county owns next to its government complex.
“It’s our duty and responsibility to evaluate that land and to try to come up with some notion of what its highest and best use is,” county board Chairman Dan Cronin said Wednesday.
Cronin said he’s also looking to recruit “people who love the fair” to develop ways to improve the annual event.
The move comes more than a year after consultants hired by DuPage advised the county to address the fair’s falling attendance and financial woes.
“I’m committed to the fair,” Cronin said. “I love the fair. I just don’t know whether the way the fair is presented today is the way it should be presented in the future.”
To ensure the long-term viability of the fair, Cronin said, county officials must find ways to make it more popular.
In a report released in February 2012, the public accounting and consulting firm of Crowe Horwath found there’s “some concern about the long-term viability” of the fair because of a continued drop in funding and declining attendance during the past decade.
One cause of the financial woes is a reduction in annual payments from the state to the DuPage Fair and Exposition Authority. That is the group responsible for distributing state money to the DuPage County Fair Association, the nonprofit entity that plans and runs the five-day fair.
“I want to make sure we have a very concerted effort to talk about the fair and how we can best ensure its future viability,” Cronin said.
Representatives of the fair association and the fair and exposition authority didn’t return telephone messages Wednesday.
When it comes to the possibility of relocating the fair, the Crowe Horwath report said DuPage should work with the authority to find a new location.
Right now, the fairgrounds site is being leased to the fair association at a rate of $1,375 a year. That lease is set to expire in 2020.
Cronin said it’s possible the real estate experts could end up recommending the best use of the land is to keep the fair there. “Everything is on the table,” he said.
If the fair must be moved, an alternative site will need to be found.
Several years ago, the fair association tried to purchase a parcel from the DuPage Airport in West Chicago. That deal, however, never happened because the price was too high for the site near North Avenue and Powis Road.
One alternative that’s been discussed is possibly sharing a fair location with a neighboring county.
“We talked about it,” Cronin said. “But I think now is the time we actually make these things happen. Let’s get to the bottom of it and see whether there is potential for that.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.