SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Visitors to the Illinois State Fair that kicked off this week and runs through Sunday, Aug. 20, will see numerous infrastructure improvements and more on the horizon.
Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II touted the major upgrades at the fair’s media preview event Aug. 3.
“This year’s fair theme is ‘Harvest the fun.’ If you look around the fairgrounds, there’s a lot of things that have been revitalized over the last four years or so. We’re actually at the point where we’re harvesting a lot of that hard work that has taken place,” Costello said.
Over the past several years, $58.1 million was earmarked for the fairgrounds through Rebuild Illinois and $6.7 million through IDOA.
Among the infrastructure improvements were:
Coliseum: Completed Phase 1, including insulating the roof. Phase 2 is in progress with improved Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility with two elevators, new seating, HVAC, sprinkler system and updated concession stands and bathrooms.
Multi-Purpose Arena: $8.6 million investment including new canopy, structural repair to foundation and terraced walls, new bathrooms and concession stands nearing completion.
Adventure Village: Train station renovated for kids’ entertainment stage and new dressing room, bathroom and concession area.
Backstretch: Electrical pedestal upgrade in camping area, updated sprinkler systems in several barns, overhaul of barn stalls and regrading to prevent flooding.
Building 30: Remodel includes interior electrical wiring, flooring, plumbing and paint, exterior LED lighting, painting, structural repair to foundation wall, removal of bleachers and additional cattle tie-outs.
Drainage: Pedestrian walkway tunnel and drive-through tunnel improvements.
Emmerson Building: Remodeling to provide emergency support location, office space and conference rooms.
Energy efficiency: New LEDs and reconfiguration across fairgrounds and installation of EV charging stations.
Paving and concrete: Utilized over 9 tons of asphalt in patching roads and 420 yards of concrete to increase safety, including upgrading ADA access points and sidewalk repair, and 5,400 gallons of sealer of sealer to seal and repair asphalt surfaces.
Permanent ticket booths: Gates 2, 4, 6 and 7 and Multi-Purpose Arena.
Road construction: Eighth Street, north of swine barn, Avenue of Flags, west of Commodities Pavilion, Farm-a-Rama near Lincoln Stage and Brian Raney Avenue.
Roof replacement: Emmerson Building, Coliseum, Expo Building, Illinois Building, 25 Series Barns, 13 Barn, 16A Barn, 16B Barn, Dairy Building and multiple comfort stations.
Sensory Station: Kids’ Corner renovated to Sensory Station.
Village of Cultures: 18 new buildings over a three-year period, including dressing room, pavilions for shade, updated fixtures, electrical and plumbing.
“Similar to a lot of things in agriculture, progress is incremental. I know we’re in an instant gratification society. A lot of people want things done yesterday. Construction and progress is incremental, but I think we’re doing a great job on the fairgrounds here,” Costello said.
“The fairgrounds is bustling with over 270 events that occur year-round. We’re working to have more non-fair events occur here on the fairgrounds. It’s an incredible economic impact to Springfield and the surrounding counties.”
Costello added last year’s fair saw a record-setting attendance of over 636,000 — 127,000 above the previous record — and commended Rebecca Clark, fair manager, for her work and that of her staff.
“The Illinois State Fair is another opportunity to showcase our state’s No. 1 industry — agriculture — and another opportunity to get families in Illinois and throughout the Midwest an experience they will never forget,” Clark said.
“Part of the mission of the Illinois State Fair is to educate the public about the importance of our No. 1 industry. There are no better ambassadors than our youth exhibitors and their families, the countless farm families who feed, clothe and fuel our nation.
“So, this year we will celebrate Ag Day on Friday, Aug 11. This will allow more youth exhibitors and their families to be on the grounds to tell their story. It will also allow us to celebrate the achievements of our industry with those who make it great.”
Copi, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ new consumer food brand for invasive carp, will be served at Conservation World throughout the fair.
The Fish Shack, operated by Darla Drainer of Grafton, will be serving Copi nuggets, Copi rangoon, Copi empanadas and Copi sliders.
“Since the launch of the Copi brand in June of 2022, commercial fishers have removed 17.4 million pounds of these invasive carp from Illinois waterways,” said Natalie Phelps Finnie, Illinois DNR director.
“Anytime IDNR has offered Copi during the state fair, people walked away impressive by how light, delicious and versatile it is.”