Major repairs at Illinois' two state fairgrounds could be made more quickly if the state Department of Agriculture could solicit private funds rather than relying on state money that's being stretched thin, according to agricultural officials and some lawmakers.
State Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, has sponsored a bill that would allow the Department of Agriculture to form a foundation to solicit private money for upgrades and repairs at fairgrounds in Springfield and Du Quoin.
Big projects such as roof replacements and road repaving are usually managed through the state's Capital Development Board, but state agriculture Director Bob Flider said fairground repairs compete with other statewide infrastructure needs.
He said the fairgrounds are able to "just tread water" with the amount of funding the department gets, which often varies widely year to year.
The proposed foundation is modeled after similar programs run by the Department of Natural Resources, Agriculture Department spokesman Jeff Squibb said. It would have a 12-member board of directors who serve in staggered four-year terms.
Flider said a foundation could help preserve the fairgrounds for future generations.
"You look at the historic buildings out there, the generations of families who have been coming out to show their livestock and promote agriculture -- it's really a part of our heritage," he said.
Manar's legislation could be taken up by the Senate as soon as this week. If it goes to the House, Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, said he'll vote "yes."
"I think it's something that would enhance the fairgrounds and bring people in, and not only during the fair. We have a lot of events there," Poe said.
The effort comes six years after a power failure idled the Springfield fairgrounds for almost three months, forcing the cancellation of several events and costing $2.7 million in emergency repairs.
The state has since spent $12 million on projects at the Springfield grounds, including repairs to the grandstand roof and some livestock barns.
Flider said needed repairs include roofs on the 4-H building and a large sheep barn. Many of the grounds' paved roads and parking lots are crumbling, too, he said.