DuPage County planning to review fairground lease

Living near the DuPage fairgrounds in Wheaton, Eric Wentz says he's used to hearing noise during the county fair and other public events.

But Wentz and his neighbors now are raising concerns about wedding receptions, parties and other private events at the fairgrounds, especially when alcohol is served.

"Recently, there have been more events," Wentz said. "There have been more events that are louder. There have been more events in which alcohol has been served. And there have been some expressions of dismay from community members over the conduct of some of the people who are there in the evening drinking."

This week, several neighbors took their complaints to the county, which owns the 42-acre property along Manchester Road. They spoke to members of the DuPage County Board's public works committee.

Jim Healy, chairman of the panel, said the county has asked the DuPage County Fair Association to reduce noise and add more security during private events. The fair association is a nonprofit group that organizes the county fair and leases the fairgrounds.

Healy also wants DuPage to draft a new lease with the association, even though the existing deal isn't set to expire until 2020.

A new lease would be "much more specific" on what the association can and cannot do with the land, he said.

"The lease they have now was very poorly drafted," Healy said. "There weren't a lot of restrictions. And some of the restrictions that are in it just don't make sense anymore."

For example, Healy said, the lease doesn't allow the fair association to charge a parking fee. Originally signed in 1976, the lease was amended in 2010 to allow liquor sales.

Healy has formed a subcommittee to draft a proposed new lease. The goal is to have the document finalized and signed by early next year.

In the meantime, the county wants Wheaton to postpone a decision on creating a new liquor license class for events at the fairgrounds.

Currently, the association must get a temporary liquor license from Wheaton if it wants to sell beer during the county fair, according to City Manager Mike Dzugan.

Catering businesses, however, can serve alcohol during private events at the fairgrounds if they have a license, Dzugan said.

If the fair association gets the proposed Class W liquor license, it would be allowed to sell alcohol during most events. It still would need to apply for an outdoor special event liquor license for the fair.

As part of the lease discussion, Healy said it must be decided if the county will allow alcohol at private events.

"I don't have a problem with selling alcohol at the fair," Healy said. "I don't have a problem with it at public events. It's the private events that I have a problem with."

He said he doesn't believe buildings at the fairgrounds should be used as banquet halls.

But Fair Association Manager Jim McGuire said renting space for private events provides needed revenue for the fairgrounds.

"You have to have revenue in order to cover your bills and expenses," McGuire said. "We've invested quite a bit of money into the grounds over the past several years. We want to continue that. The only way to do that is to find new revenue sources."

Because significant improvements have been made to the buildings, the fairgrounds is a nice place to have a gathering, McGuire said.

While there have been "a couple people who didn't respect our property or our neighbors," McGuire said, the association has responded by having a security guard and staff members at every event.

"We don't want to cause any problems or issues with the neighbors," McGuire said. "Our efforts have been to be a good neighbor and to bring good things to the community."

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