Fairgrounds: They’re not just for Bossy anymore
Fairgrounds, once relegated to hosting seasonal livestock and agriculture shows, are taking on new life as year-round venues for a variety of events in small- to medium-sized communities. Demographic changes have come with urban growth, and fairgrounds are increasingly seen as facilities for providing new services to changing populations.
Few communities want to lose sight completely of the farming and ranching roots that first gave life to the fairgrounds, so many still see fairgrounds as venues to celebrate agriculture. But communities are seeking other uses for these venues as well.
They are looking at fairgrounds as assets that can draw market shows, such as those for the jewelry, crafts and gun industries. Fairgrounds can also be prime venues for outdoor concerts, as well as for shows featuring large-scale products like boats which most downtown civic centers cannot easily accommodate.
In Johnson County, located in suburban Indianapolis, commissioners wanted to expand and update the county’s 100-year-old, 29-acre fairground to meet the needs of a growing community. Agriculture still plays a major role in the economy, so the county wanted to provide agribusiness people with conference facilities that could be used for showcasing agricultural equipment and training.
A study by HNTB Architecture, Kansas City, Mo., identified six key steps that would significantly improve the fairground’s usefulness:
a significant increase in the amount of on-site parking;
development of a community center to host events of up to 600 people;
expansion of infrastructure;
construction of a multi-purpose facility for events such as livestock and trade shows;
improved accessibility and visibility; and
use of the facility throughout the calendar year.
A revenue plan was developed for Johnson County’s fairground, and it was estimated that the facility could eventually generate well over $400,000 in annual operating funds — enough to justify the expansion project. In general, fairgrounds are rarely enterprise operations that generate profits over expenses. Rather, they are means for communities to provide services to their citizens.
According to the revenue plan, funds would come from expanded parking with related fees; rental fees for the park facilities and proposed community center; and the overall increased capacity and usefulness of the park.
Though revenues can be generated through parking and user fees, the majority of funding for maintenance and improvements must come from public sources — bonds or general funds. To maximize the property and available money, a well-documented master plan can be critical.
The plan should take into account not only how the land is being used currently, but also factors like traffic circulation, parking structures, utilities, ADA requirements, environmental regulations and changing demographics. Prioritizing improvements and justifying their costs depend upon the needs of the citizens.
Johnson County is now implementing the first phase of its master plan, acquiring an additional 40 acres of adjacent land and developing a plan for this land. Refining the master plan further and extending utilities from the original fairgrounds will be the next steps.