Grayslake clearing former fairgrounds site for development
Slowly over the past few weeks, the reminders of Lake County Fairs of old have been erased, the buildings demolished to make the site at routes 120 and 45 more attractive for a new user.
Soon, the 104 acres will be clear as the village tries to tidy the appearance and prime the pump for development. Despite big plans, nothing has materialized. The land has been inactive since the last county fair was held here in 2008, when a new fairgrounds opened on the south side of town.
The old animal barns, exhibition hall, cafeteria and other buildings -- about 20 in all -- arose piecemeal over the years beginning in 1954. They formed the backdrop of a familiar summer ritual but were left to deteriorate pending a new use for the property that would necessitate their demolition.
"Walking through last week, there was an eerie, reminiscent feel of days gone by and what the fair meant," said Greg Koeppen, executive director of the Lake County Farm Bureau, which is adjacent to the fairgrounds on Route 45.
Koeppen said the sites, sounds and smells hadn't faded from memory.
"It's more than funnel cakes and carnival rides," he said of the those times. "It's about friends and family."
Despite the nostalgia, Koeppen, a member of the village's plan commission/zoning board of appeals, said the property had become an eyesore and liability. The village board this summer approved a demolition contract for $281,000 with T.R.B. Inc., the same company that took down the Grayslake Gelatin Co. structures in late 2016.
"It's just another step along the way for when a developer does decide to act, and to eliminate blight," explained Brett Kryska, assistant village manager.
The property is owned by Developers Diversified Realty Corp. of suburban Cleveland. The company's portfolio primarily is composed of so-called power centers across the U.S. In the Chicago area, Deer Park Town Center, Village Crossing in Skokie and Woodfield Village Green in Schaumburg are among its holdings.
Developers Diversified Realty received village approval to redevelop the old fairgrounds into an 807,000-square-foot shopping center about 10 years ago, but the project was shelved once the economic downtown hit. The company did not immediately return messages Friday.
"Economically, it's a great piece of property," Koeppen said.
The village is paying to have the site cleared and is recruiting developers, but no concrete plans have surfaced or been submitted.
One factor is an agreement between the village and Lake County that calls for reimbursement for roadwork to address an expected increase in traffic on already busy thoroughfares.
Initially, the estimated tab was $21 million, which the village expected to recoup from a developer. But times changed, and both parties agreed to revise the agreement to reflect economic realities. The new amount is $46,403 an acre, or an estimated total of $4.8 million, but it's still a factor in attracting interest.
"Developers have expressed concerns about the special Lake County transportation fees required only for this property due to an agreement with the county," Kryska said.
Meanwhile, the village is getting ready for whatever happens.
"Retail has been discussed as being a preference, (but) it just depends on what comes forward," he said.