Fairgrounds priced at $30 million

GREENFIELD — About $30 million.

That’s the rough cost estimate supporters of the Hancock County Exposition Complex have finally tagged onto the proposed facility that would serve as a new fairgrounds and year-round activities center.

Members of the nonprofit board overseeing the suggested project announced the estimated price tag Wednesday at the first of two informational meetings scheduled for this month, but they did not have much more to say on the topic.

They showed a video, which walked viewers through plans for the complex, detailing what the site would offer and showing renderings of planned facilities. The same video was shown to hundreds of people at this year’s Hancock County 4-H Fair at a booth hosted by project supporters.

Even though a smattering of applause rang out after the presentation, it was broken up by a grumbling murmur from those perplexed as to why no public comments or questions were allowed during the meeting, which lasted less than an hour.

Organizers said their goal Wednesday was to bring attention to the complex, nicknamed the X-Plex, and to gather written feedback from the public. The 50 or so people who attended the meeting jotted down their questions and comments on slips of paper, which were collected so board members could review and discuss them later.

They invited the public to attend their board meetings and share in those discussions. Board members told the audience Wednesday they have a site plan and facilities concept, as well as testimonials from 4-H’ers and members of the Hancock County 4-H Agricultural Association about why the new facility is needed.

But as audience members shouted questions — asking about funding details, a project timeline and more — board members admitted they don’t have all the answers just yet.

Some residents lingered at the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department, holding their own small-group debates about what the X-Plex would mean for Hancock County and what it might cost taxpayers, who haven’t received firm answers about how the project would be funded.

Project supporters’ wish list for the new facility was not enough to entice some, including Jill Placke. No matter how thought-out or alluring the plan might seem, she’s not yet sold, she said.

“It was like ‘Field of Dreams’ — the Kevin Costner movie,” Placke said. “They have a vision, they have a dream; but this small community, no matter how important they feel it is, cannot afford (the) ticket at this time.”

The X-Plex would be located on more than 208 acres of county-owned farmland along U.S. 40 between county roads 400E and 500E. It would double the size of the county fairgrounds and add a multipurpose exposition center, two arenas and six rental barns. A large outdoor amphitheater, a grand gazebo and sizable retention pond also are planned.

A similar concept was explored more than a decade ago but never came to fruition. Now, supporters say the project can’t wait any longer — the current fairgrounds is overcrowded and ill-equipped to hold large events. They are ready to move on from exploration.

The Hancock County Board of Commissioners would have to lease the property to the nonprofit board before the project can proceed. The commissioners have voiced support for the development as long as the public is in favor of moving forward.

The complex is needed for the county’s growing 4-H program, said Darrin Couch, vice president of the 4-H agricultural association and a member of the X-Plex board. The county’s 4-H’ers produced more than 3,000 projects and brought more than 1,300 livestock projects to the fairgrounds this year.

Simply put, there was not enough space for all it, he said. And that diminishes the 4-H experience.

The county has taken some preliminary steps to set the X-Plex in motion.

In June, the Hancock County Council voted to raise a tax imposed on hotel guests from 4 percent to 5 percent, earmarking the estimated $70,000 increase in revenue for the complex.

But more cash than that would be needed, Couch said. Funding would need to come from private donations, corporate sponsorships and grants.

“I wish right now I could give you the recipe for how it’s going to happen,” Couch said during the meeting.

Taxpayer dollars would likely fill in the gaps, he said, but “to what extent, we don’t know.”

Such a big price tag would likely stick with taxpayers for generations, Placke said.

“There are a lot of concerns here,” she said. “I would love to see it work, and I do believe 4-H is very important. But I don’t think, with our populous and our income bracket, we can afford this. We need some great outside resources and large amount of donations.”

Placke said she also has concerns about how the site in Hancock County would draw vendors for events outside fair time, particularly with similar facilities available in nearby Indianapolis.

Others raised concerns about how X-Plex decisions are being made.

Mark Lozier said he would love to see a new fairground facility but has issues with several elected officials serving on the X-Plex board, citing a conflict of interest.

But that decision was made purposefully, said Tom Stevens, who represents the county commissioners on the X-Plex board. In meetings held about the fairgrounds project, which are open to the public, he can approach the discussion with a more realistic understanding about what the county can contribute to the development, he said.

Stevens said the X-Plex board was expecting some negative push-back at the meeting, but he remains confident most county residents are excited about the project.

“Most of the people who I have talked with are in support of this. They are more interested to know when we’re going to make this happen, not how much it’s going to cost.”

Next up

Residents have another chance to learn more about the proposed new fairgrounds project next week. A public meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Buck Creek Township Fire Department, 5809 W. Airport Blvd., Greenfield.

Attend a board meeting

A nonprofit board meets monthly to oversee the proposed new fairgrounds project. The public has been invited to attend.

The board meets at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, 1 Courthouse Plaza.

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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.