Work on new fairgrounds progressing

GREENFIELD — Work toward building a new county fairgrounds is slowly progressing, but proponents are calling for community stakeholders to get on board to make the plan a reality.

Late last year, plans were revealed to build an exposition center, new animal barns, a large show arena and more on county farmland on U.S. 40 between county roads 400E and 500E.

Now, supporters of the project are organizing public information sessions, which they say will take the planning to the next step.

Moving the fairgrounds to the new location, which is owned by the county, would allow it to double in size and could open the door to adding businesses including restaurants, inns and shops.

It’s a goal that fell short 10 years ago when a similar project, then estimated to cost $18 million, was proposed and ultimately shelved when elected officials and nonprofit leaders were unable to decide how to pay for it and who would run the site.

This time around, a nonprofit group, the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corp., has been formed to streamline the process.

The project is in its infancy, with the group now working to plan informational meetings for the public to educate all stakeholders on the issue before any papers are signed.

Proponents say it’s important to move the fairgrounds because it’s currently landlocked. Additional buildings could attract trade shows and tourists to the community, providing economic gains.

Hancock County Council member Kent Fisk, a main proponent of the project, said for years Hancock County has turned away amenities like shopping malls, horse tracks and entertainment. Building a new fairgrounds with an exposition center would attract events and tourists to Hancock County, he said.

“In the end, we’re hoping everyone in the county supports this,” he said. “The city and county will benefit tremendously.”

For a project this size to be successful, it will take collaboration from all aspects of the county, including the city of Greenfield, county officials, businesses and residents, Fisk said.

And so far, those entities have stepped up.

Late last year, the city of Greenfield agreed to extend water and sewer lines to the site.

How much that will cost and who will pay for it is still unknown, but it’s being worked out, Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell said.

He and his opponent in the primary election for mayor, Judy Swift, agree the city needs to be involved in the process because Greenfield will benefit from a new, bigger fairgrounds.

That involvement, they say, is to not stand in the group or county’s way of making it happen.

“It’s a win-win for the city and county to pursue that,” Fewell said.

Currently, Riley Park is landlocked by the fairgrounds located on north Apple Street.

Moving the fairgrounds could allow Riley Park to expand, Fewell said.

The city’s role in the project should be to aid the county by extending the needed utility lines, he added.

Swift said she believes a new fairgrounds would be a boom for the city.

It’s important for city officials to help move the project forward, she said, even though that might come at a cost to the city.

It will be well worth it, she said, because it will bring tourists who will eat at the city’s restaurants and stay in its hotels.

“These things actually bring people to the area,” she said. “It will bring growth and tourism. It will actually be fabulous.”

The next step is to advertise informational meetings, Fisk said. Those are important because they will allow the group to gauge public interest and gain feedback.

Results won’t happen overnight, he stressed.

“I know it seems slow to some people, but we’ve got to make sure we cross all of our t’s and dot our i’s, … make sure everyone is on the same page,” Fisk said. “Stay patient but positive.”

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.