Public deserves hard facts on fairgrounds project

During the Hancock County 4-H fair, the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corp. unveiled preliminary architectural renderings and illustrations of its proposed new fairground and X-Plex initiative.

Next week, members of the general public will have an additional opportunity to look over these illustrations.

The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Buck Creek Township Community Center at the Mt. Comfort Indianapolis Regional Airport, located just off of North County Road 600W.

I would strongly encourage all members of the public to attend the meeting to learn more about the proposed initiatives. I would think this would provide members of the public with a great opportunity to ask questions, submit comments and express concerns. So take advantage of it.

So far, proponents have put out little information on their initiative other than these architectural renderings. Accordingly, it is difficult to comment on what can be only be described as speculative and hypothetical issues at this point.

I am still strongly opposed to the fact that the HCECC has wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars on what amounts to artist illustrations of something which may or may not come to be.

I have contended from Day 1that the county and HCECC should never have started spending funds on this initiative without first conducting a preliminary assessment of local and area community needs and markets; ascertaining general space and facility needs; settling on exact scope and location of project; defining infrastructure requirements; coming up with general cost estimates; agreeing on a consensus plan for funding; and ensuring the project can be operationally sustained.

A local fairgrounds is one thing. A major convention and exposition center is a totally different thing. You just don’t jump into something like this without a lot of forethought and planning and analysis of all the surrounding and competing area markets. “Build it and they will come” may be a great line for a movie, but it doesn’t cut it in the real word.

It remains my position that if county officials are serious about wanting to consider a new fairgrounds, they need to take direct control of the matter.

They need to appoint an official county study group, board or commission comprised of qualified people, who are experienced and familiar with needs assessments, marketing and most importantly, who recognize that economic development needs to be supported with corresponding economic growth to ensure long-term sustainability of any undertaken project.

Further, no elected officials or government employees should be appointed as members of the study group.

Arrangements for their input should be made as required and needed.

The role of users of proposed facilities and other key community players should be limited to that of nonvoting, ex-officio members as determined by the study group, board or commission. Most importantly, all meetings and records should be subject to Indiana’s open meeting and access to public records laws.

It is obvious that there still remain considerable misunderstandings out there about the proposed fairground initiative, which should have been publicly addressed long ago. Since the county commissioners, council, HCECC and 4-H Agricultural Association obviously have not seen fit to publicly clarify matters, I will.

A. This initiative involves far more than simply a new fairgrounds at a new location or a renovated fairgrounds at the present location. It includes considerably expanded additional facilities — a major convention and exposition hospitality center and other facilities.

B. It involves dramatic changes in current county operating practices and policies. The current fairgrounds is owned, operated, managed and maintained by the ag association, which now wants out of the business of running a fairgrounds. It wants the county to take over total responsibility for it. It also wants the county to build, fund, operate, manage and maintain the new facilities.

It wants full use of all facilities at no cost and to be able to retain all revenues from sponsored events.

C. The leadership of the ag association wants the HCECC (a private corporation with no assets) to be the managing agent and/or owner of the new fairgrounds. Further, the association wants two seats (voting) on the board of directors of the HCECC.

I hope this finally sets the record straight and clears up all the obvious confusion with respect to this issue.

John Priore is a member of the Blue River Township board. He is a Greenfield resident.