SPRINGFIELD — Visitors to next month’s Illinois State Fair might notice evidence of ongoing construction, part of a major investment to update some of the fairground’s oldest buildings.
A series of renovation projects totaling $58.1 million are underway at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Those working closely on the projects say the investment could help bring more tourists — and economic activity — to central Illinois.
“There’s a ripple effect when you talk about economic impact,” said Rebecca Clark, Illinois State Fair Director. “We have 366 acres of great destinations and endless possibilities here at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, and it really has the potential to have a giant economic impact.”
“The Illinois State Fair generates millions of dollars of economic activity each year in the City of Springfield and Sangamon County,” added Scott Dahl, director of the Springfield Illinois Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Clark said the investment is needed after years of delayed projects.
Historic — and expensive
Fairgrounds is registered as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places, and many historic structures have begun to deteriorate in recent decades.
The Colosseum, the epicenter of the fairgrounds, was built in 1901. Renovations to the structure began in 2019. Phase 2 of the project will pick up after the 2022 event and will cost around $16.3 million.
Historic buildings will still require regular maintenance, Clark said, but what ultimately matters is whether or not the state can pay for the projects.
“There are countless projects we need to work on,” she said. “It’s a matter of funding.
Aside from the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, a private charitable corporation that helps fund state fairground improvement projects, most funding comes from the state legislature.
Clark attributed the ongoing projects to a renewed interest by Governor J. B. Pritzker’s administration in maintaining the fairgrounds.
“For too long, our fairgrounds haven’t reflected the magic of the Illinois State Fair — so my administration is turning the tide,” Pritzker said. said in a statement earlier this month.
“The $58 million in infrastructure improvements we are making to the Springfield Fairgrounds … are an investment in the Illinois families who make this celebration what it is,” Pritzker’s statement continued. “I am proud to improve the fairgrounds for generations to come.”
The Illinois State Fair sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. In 2021, more than 472,000 people attended the showmaking it the second-busiest fair since the Ministry of Agriculture began officially tracking attendance in 2014.
The renovation projects, which began earlier this spring, include multi-million dollar renovations to the Colosseum and Multi-Purpose Arena (MPA) buildings, road construction and a number of roof replacements and of HVAC through the fairgrounds.
Renovations will continue during the Illinois State Fair Aug. 11-21 and into the fall.
Visitors to the show will notice ongoing construction work this year. The MPA will be closed for construction, with previously scheduled events in the building either postponed until September or suspended until the 2023 State Fair.
‘Drop in the Bucket’
Although the $58.1 million price tag might seem excessive to some, Clark said that was just the beginning of what was needed.
“It all adds up, but at the same time, it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what we need here at State Fairgrounds,” she said.
Fairgrounds are used for much more than the state fair.
“We have countless events every day here at the fairgrounds. It’s used 365 (days a year). It’s not just the 11 days of the fair,” Clark said. cannot organize at the moment because we lack some of the necessary infrastructure.”
Fixing this infrastructure could prove beneficial to the entire state.
Dahl said the coming years will likely bring a major influx of visitors to Illinois, largely due to the upcoming Route 66 centennial in 2026.
“We know that certainly from an international perspective, 2025 and 2026 will be very, very big years for international travelers visiting Route 66, so we want to be ready for them. And we think Illinois State Fairgrounds will play a major role,” Dahl said.
Current renovation projects will have an impact even further into the future, Dahl said.
“It really puts Illinois State Fairgrounds in a great position for the next 20 to 30 years,” he said.
ARCHIVE PHOTOS: Return to the Illinois State Fair
Happy Hollow Illinois State Fair
Heinhold Pig Race
Aerial view of the Illinois State Fair
Illinois State Fair Coliseum
Chester golden pig white
Auctioneer Merrill Anderson
Sale of champions
Shaving and haircut
Illinois Department of Agriculture
Arts and Textile Building
Contact Taylor Vidmar at (217) 421-6949. Follow her on Twitter: @taylorvidmar11.