General consensus seems to support the need for a new fairgrounds, according to an informal survey conducted last week by the Daily Reporter. Howto pay for it, however, is open to question. Staff photo by Tom Russo
General consensus seems to support the need for a new fairgrounds, according to an informal survey conducted last week by the Daily Reporter. Howto pay for it, however, is open to question. Staff photo by Tom Russo
GREENFIELD — As rain welcomed the start of the Hancock County 4-H Fair two weekends ago, it saturated the fairgrounds’ parking lots, leaving much of it in a muddy mess. Some people decided to ignore the signs announcing the lots were closed, revving their trucks and getting stuck in the mud.

Many supporters of a new county fairgrounds can’t help but feel like those drivers stuck in the mud. Past plans to relocate or expand the cramped facility at the corner of Park Avenue and Apple Street have fallen through over the past few years, as county officials have changed course on the proposed site and state lawmakers haven’t been able to pass a new food and beverage tax that would raise money to build it.

The county intends to build a $43 million jail on a portion of county-owned farmland once pledged to the Hancock County Ag Association for a new fairgrounds, between County Roads 400E and 500E along U.S. 40. Even if a fairgrounds could get built on the remaining available land, it’s questionable that fair-goers would want to watch 4-H shows or enjoy the midway a few hundred yards away from where inmates are housed, Josh Phares said.

Phares, ag association president, said a future multimillion-dollar plan for the county fairgrounds might seem bleak, but fair leaders plan to fix what they can in hopes of some sort of resolution.

“We can only put so many patches on patches before it eventually breaks,” Phares said.

The Hancock County Fairgrounds has several buildings dating to the late 1950s and early ‘60s, according to online county property records. Some buildings have foundation issues, such as the exhibit hall, Phares said, and the entire property needs to be updated to modern standards, with newer lighting and equipment.

Recently, some of the buildings have flooded because of the overflowing drains near the newly paved parking lot at the fairgrounds, Phares said. The speed that water moves on the pavement is much faster than the old gravel lot, he said, which has caused water to flow into the fair office and exhibit hall. Phares said the area needs larger drains to handle the storm water, which would mean tearing up the asphalt. Last year, the ag association spent $92,000 from the county’s innkeepers tax funds to pay for the lot.

In 2016, a new fairgrounds on the county farmland was estimated to cost $18 million, dependent on if the state legislature could pass a 1% food and beverage tax for the county. That would bring in about $12 million, and fairgrounds supporters would then have to raise only $6 million. Neither have happened.

During fair week, the Daily Reporter asked readers if they favor a new fairgrounds. According to an online survey, 52 of the 76 respondents answered yes; 20 said no; 3 had no opinion; and one skipped the question. Seven people also filled out paper surveys, with five in favor and two with no opinion.

Most of those that favor a new fairgrounds wrote in survey responses that the lack of parking, especially during muddy conditions, always causes issues. They also said there’s no room for the fairgrounds to grow at the current location and too many activities are crammed into a small space.

Those against moving the fairgrounds to a different location said past projects to relocate the fairgrounds have exceeded what supporters and taxpayers can bear.

In response to a question on fairgrounds funding, more than half of the survey respondents said a potential project should be supported through fundraising. A few dozen people also said funding could come from food and beverage taxes or the county’s innkeepers tax.

Dana Campbell has lived in Hancock County for three years, but she isn’t a stranger to county fairs. Growing up in Owen County, northwest of Bloomington, Campbell was a 10-year 4-H’er. The southern Indiana county’s fairgrounds is similar in size and age to the one here, Campbell said, but Owen County has close to 54,000 fewer residents than Hancock County.

Campbell said she’s noticed the lack of space not only for fair-goers, but for the 4-H’ers that make the fair possible.

“I feel like we could draw a lot of people from outside just Greenfield,” Campbell said. “We’ve got Fortville, we’ve got all these thriving communities, and it just seems like it would be more ideal if they could move the location of the fairgrounds — it’s not very visitor friendly, for sure.”

During fair week, Mason Maynard helped 4-H’ers get ready for their shows. The recent Eastern Hancock High School graduate and former 4-H’er and FFA member, said the Greenfield fairgrounds is the “perfect” location. He said the facility just needs updated restrooms and upgrades to a few buildings — a “spiffed-up look.”

“I don’t feel like there’s a need to spend more money than we have to,” Maynard said, adding that it could cost more money to build a new fairgrounds than to update the current location.

Phares said he would like a new fairgrounds to have at least 100 acres of land, more than doubling the current acreage in Greenfield. The remaining available space at the county-owned property might not fit that requirement, depending on how much land the county could use for future criminal justice projects. Phares said in order to relocate, it would mean the ag association purchasing land, but that doesn’t seem likely at this point.

Since the county OK’d the fairgrounds resolution in 2016, the state legislature has failed to pass a bill that would increase the food and beverage tax in Hancock County by one percentage point to fund a fairgrounds project; the county already has a 1% food and beverage tax imposed on consumers. Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, has introduced a food and beverage tax bill each year since 2017.

Because of the lack of action on the bills, Phares said the ag association hasn’t been able to raise the additional $6 million. He said it’s also difficult to form a business plan for the fairgrounds without the assurance of land.

“We always get our hopes up, and then we get let down,” Phares said. “Unless we’re able to get something worked out, I don’t know what we could do and what we can look at and how we’d be able to fund-raise — it’s more complicated than I know how to deal with.”

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