Lake County Fair's top official quits but event moves forward

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the former Lake County Fairgrounds was at Routes 120 and 45 in Grayslake.

The Lake County Fair Association will be without a chief executive heading into the biggest event of the year, but officials say operations are on track for the 88th annual county fair later this summer.

Matthew Robertson, general manager, recently resigned after 18 months. A Chicago resident, Robertson had been commuting to the fair office in Grayslake and left to take a job closer to his home and family. His last day was May 20.

"The fair dominates every meeting at this point," said John Maguire, director of business development and marketing for the Lake County Fair Association. "To dedicate a lot of thought to a succession plan is not urgent."

Maguire said no decisions or changes will be considered until after the fair, July 27-31. A team was in place and duties were being absorbed by existing staff, he added.

Reached for comment Sunday, Robertson said, "One of the accomplishments I am most proud of is helping to change the operational mindset from the old fairgrounds to a modern, professionally managed public assembly facility. Every strategic move we made over the past two years was designed to elevate the service standards, image and identity, cleanliness, efficiency and overall product of the Event Center to attract bigger and better shows."

The fair association has struggled financially since closing its home of half a century at Routes 120 and 45 in Grayslake and building a new facility at Peterson and Midlothian roads a few miles south. The new location opened in 2009, but the nonprofit fair association was beset by a variety of issues including bad weather and the inability to sell adjoining land it owned for development that had been expected to generate millions of dollars.

Robertson and Maguire were hired at the same time to increase interest in the fair and in the facilities as a year-round venue. Maguire said a "new hospitality oriented attitude" has been instilled and the calendar is full from July to the end of the year.

"This last 18 months we got re-energized," Maguire said.

Tweaks were made to the grounds, entertainment and other offerings. Last year, with a near full five-day run of good weather, the fair reported its best attendance at the new location. Improvements have included a 36-foot high electronic entry sign; exterior completion of a second events building; new turf and drainage for the festival area south of the main building; and, a revamped food service with barn wood accents called the Farmstand Eatery.

"For the first eight years, the property was a wonderful facility but it still felt new," Maguire said. "We're adding character."

Part of the fair's success last year was the return of motocross. This year, two shows will be held in advance of the fair.

"We've accomplished a lot in the last year and a half and that will continue," he said. "We're in good shape."


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