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Colosseum closed, foundation donations low, for Illinois State Fair opening next Thursday

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Friday, August 3, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Agriculture (2) , State Facilities/Buildings , State Fair, Fairs
Amid a private fundraising slump, fairgoers in Springfield will see a shuttered Coliseum this year, but some officials are hoping $30 million in state money will spur on private donations for repairs at the state facility.

The 10-day expo in Springfield begins with a twilight parade Aug. 9. State Fair Manager Luke Sailer said the Coliseum ticket window is boarded up right now. But come fair time, that will change for fairgoers.

“They’re going to put large posters on there to kind of show where the Coliseum has been in the past, where it is now and how we look to make it for the future,” Sailer said.

The Coliseum has been closed since 2016 when part of the roof gave in. That’s just part of the $180 million in deferred maintenance on the fairgrounds in both Springfield and DuQuoin.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said while the recently created Illinois State Fair Foundation has only raised tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands, of dollars, he hopes the state budgeting $30 million in repairs triggers a private match.

“So I think when the foundation goes out and makes their pitch, they can tell people ‘look, the state’s invested in this too, we need you to match some of the state money that’s going into it,’ ” Butler said.

With the $30 million the state budgeted for the fairgrounds in the current fiscal year, Sailer said some repairs, like road repavement, has happened and there are ongoing conversations about more projects.

“It's not like they just gave us thirty million [dollars] and we’ve got it sitting in our desk drawers right now, there’s a lot of procedures in place,” Sailer said. “That’s a conversation we’re still working through with our partners.”

“In the budget process, those are bonds and you've got to sell those bonds as you go so we’re working with [the Capital Development Board] to get that done,” Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Raymond Poe said. “We also want to get the multi-purpose arena, that’s in that first $30 million also, to get that back.”

Poe said he hopes to also get all the roofs replaced on the fairgrounds.

“We can’t rely solely on private money, we know that,” Butler said. “This is a state facility. But certainly I think the ability is there to raise some private dollars to help out facilities down at the fairgrounds.”

The fairgrounds foundation has raised $32,000 since in 2017, the State Journal-Register reported.

Poe said there may be some donor fatigue after a privately financed $15 million overhaul of the Governor’s Mansion.

“I’m hoping the emphasis will shift now to the Illinois State Fair,” Poe said.