lp fair to be restructured

Friday, October 27, 2017 13:37 PM
Written by Stan Maddux
Category: Local News

A decision was made Thursday to have the LaPorte County fairgrounds restructured and professionally operated to try and solve the financial struggles of the state's oldest fair.

A blue ribbon committee appointed several months ago to look into the matter voted to form a 10 member not-for-profit corporation to oversee the fairgrounds and, eventually, hire a full-time manager of the property.

The existing fair board on its way out as year round operators of the county government owned parcel will have exclusive rights to the property and all of the buildings for a month before and after the LaPorte County fair.

4-H will also have sole rights to the facility during fair month and be given top priority in scheduling for their activities on the property throughout the year.

The committee also approved by-laws that include county government assuming payment of the liability insurance from the fair board and receiving a share of any profits from use of the grounds except for the fair.

The mission is to generate more revenue without interfering with the fair to pay for millions of dollars in facility like replacing the potentially life threatening outdated electrical system.

Terry Garner, a LaPorte County Councilman and committee member, said the property must be improved before the manager is hired and that could take a few years because of the cost of the improvements.

''First you have something to manage and we're not quite where we have anything to manage out there,'' Garner said.

The restructuring was a stipulated when the LaPorte County Council recently approved forgiving a $250,000 loan to the fair board in 2011 for extending sewer lines to the fairgrounds.

It was modeled after the organizational structure put into place in 1984 at the Porter County fairgrounds.

Lori Daly, director of the fairgrounds in Valparaiso, said year round activities at the Porter County Expo Center generates a vast majority of the revenue for its close to half million dollar annual budget.

She also said the fairgrounds is self-sufficient except for the $60-$70 thousand dollar yearly contribution from the county and the relationship with the fair board is on solid ground.

''We do work very well together,'' Daly said.

The LaPorte County fairgrounds doesn't have an expo center but Jack Arnett, another blue ribbon committee member, said the grandstands and motor sports arena can host more concerts, tractor pulls and other outdoor events.

More money making use can also be made out of some of the existing buildings

''We're positioned right now to hold events. A lot of events,'' said Arnett, executive director of the LaPorte County Convention & Vistors Bureau.

The fairgrounds has been used more often in recent years for major events like pyrotechnics shows but not enough to make a real impact on the fair board's revenue stream.

''There's some potential there. Porter County seems to have a handle on doing it right,'' said Arnett.

The committee will meet again December 6 to review and possibly approve the legal documents that will start being drafted for the restructuring to take effect.

The fair has existed since 1845.

''We have no intention of taking over the fair,'' said Randy Novak, another member of the LaPorte County Council and committee.

At his request, the written agreement with the fair board once it expires will automatically be renewed unless there are unforseen circumstances that need correcting.