Backers pitch vision for new fairgrounds

GREENFIELD — Hancock County residents this week are getting a glimpse at what the 4-H fair could be if plans for a new fairgrounds facility come to fruition.

Supporters and members of the nonprofit board overseeing the proposed Hancock County Exposition Complex, or XPLEX, have set up a booth near the 4-H Exhibit Hall to display renderings of a potential new fairgrounds, one that is significantly larger and features additional facilities capable of supporting year-round activities.

Proponents of the yet-to-be-priced new fairgrounds are looking to inform fairgoers about their plan, offer reasons for why they believe it is needed and answer questions about what it might take to bring the concept to reality.

County officials already have taken steps to move forward with a new fairgrounds site.

Earlier this month, the Hancock County Council voted to increase a tax on the hotel guests staying in the county in order to move forward with the development plans. The hike will put about $75,000 a year toward the fairground’s construction and ongoing operations.

So far, the display has been met with positive feedback from fairgoers, board president Kent Fisk said. More than 100 people have indicated their support by signing up to receive further information about the development, despite it lacking a definite price tag.

“People are more interested in knowing when we’re going to make this happen,” Fisk said.

“Surely, we can do better.”

Plans for the development, which is expected to cost millions of dollars, calls for nearly doubling the size of the current fairgrounds, adding an exposition center and agricultural business park and moving the location to county-owned farmland along U.S. 40.

It features covered arenas, rental barns, a large outdoor amphitheater and a grand gazebo, and there would be space for business and restaurants that would keep the grounds operating year-round.

Further funding likely would come from grants, donations and sponsorship, Fisk said.

Some people have criticized the project and the county’s stock in it, but committee members believe that is a small albeit vocal minority. So far, the booth has produced mainly positive feedback, organizers said.

“Some things are worth spending your money on,” said Dave Scott, director of the Hancock County Visitors Bureau and a supporter of the project. “If this was a dying fair or dying community, it would be a different story.”

But the opposite is happening in Hancock County, committee member said. The community and the 4-H program are growing rapidly with roughly one in 200 youths in the county participating in 4-H.

A new fairgrounds facility would benefit everyone in the community, especial the youth involved in 4-H, said Debbie Vansickly, a member of the XPLEX steering committee.

“We have projects on top of projects in there,” she said, indicating the cramped exhibit hall. “The 4-H program has outgrown this facility.”

Bob Ritchie was on the Indiana State Fair Board 10 years ago when Hancock County officials first discussed relocating and developing the fairgrounds. At that time, the project was estimated to cost $18 million but was shouted down.

Now, Ritchie said, there are issues with the current fairgrounds that do not facilitate growth. After visiting the informational booth, he said he was supportive of the committee’s ambitious ideas.

“This property is landlocked, and there is no place to expand,” he said. “Just look at all the mud this year; that’s an issue.”

More space and year-round facilities seem to interest the parents and grandparents of 4-H’ers, who spend much of fair week inside cramped stalls and aged buildings.

“Anytime you have multipurpose facilities, it makes it more worthwhile,” Pat Henderson of Greenfield said.

The XPLEX committee will pack up its display and conduct informational meetings around the county in the coming weeks in an effort to meet with more community members, Fisk said. Those meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. July 8 at the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department and 7 p.m. July 16 at the Buck Creek Township Fire Department.

Fisk said he’s eager to hear further public input on the proposal and to continue the conversation about growth in the county.

“Several small miracles have happened to get us to this point,” he said. “There are still little hurdles to overcome.”

Voice your opinion

The XPLEX committee will hold an informational meetings around the county in July to hear further feedback about the proposed fairgrounds facility. Those meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. July 8 at the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department and 7 p.m. July 16 at the Buck Creek Township Fire Department.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.