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Article posted: 10/1/2013 10:25 PM

Panel to consider redevelopment options for DuPage fairgrounds

A new advisory group of business officials and industry experts will work to determine the best use for the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton.

A new advisory group of business officials and industry experts will work to determine the best use for the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton.

 

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DuPage County officials remain committed to keeping the county fair. The same can't be said about keeping the event at the existing fairgrounds in Wheaton.

A new advisory group will spend the next few months trying to determine if the annual event is the best use of the 42-acre site along Manchester Road.

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The panel of business officials and industry experts then will recommend whether the county, which owns the site next to the government complex, should continue leasing the fairgrounds to the DuPage County Fair Association, the nonprofit entity that plans and runs the five-day fair.

County board Chairman Dan Cronin, who formed the real estate assessment task force, said he owes it to the taxpayers to find out "the highest and best use of the property."

"I am engaged in a process of examination and review," Cronin said. "We need to look at the land and determine the value of it. What other uses could be considered? You can't say the property should be used for something else unless you know what else is out there."

The task force is holding its first meeting on Wednesday morning. Fair association officials Tuesday said they were unaware of the meeting. Attempts to contact Jim McGuire, president of the fair association, were unsuccessful.

Right now, the fairgrounds site is being leased to the fair association at a rate of $1,375 a year. The deal is set to expire in 2020.

Cronin stressed he's not seeking to have the property redeveloped when the lease ends.

"That's not my goal," he said. "I just want to examine what the potential of this property can be."

In fact, he said, the advisory panel could determine there's no interest in redeveloping the parcel and the fair shouldn't move.

"I don't know where this will lead us," Cronin said.

But if another use for the land is suggested, a new spot for the fair would need to be found. An alternative that's been discussed is possibly sharing a fair location with a neighboring county.

No matter what happens, Cronin said county officials are committed to continuing the fair. "It's a valuable tradition that we need to maintain here," he said.

However, Cronin said changes might be needed to improve the long-term viability of the event. Despite this year's fair drawing an estimated 115,753 visitors -- about 3,000 more visitors than in 2012 -- attendance is significantly lower than it was a decade ago. The fair also has seen a drop in funding.

"Maybe there's another way to host the fair," Cronin said. "Does it have to be the way it's always been?"

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