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Elkhart Co. Fair Board Looks Ahead to 2018

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, December 29, 2017

The Elkhart County 4-H Fair board is poised to make major decisions affecting its future. These decisions will provide answers to one frequently asked question: Where will the new show pavilion be built?

To guide the planning effort, the fair hired a consultant to conduct market research and a feasibility study.

According to fair manager Bryan Blair, a team of marketing consultants visited the fairgrounds four times in 2017. The visits occurred in April, July (during fair week), August and October.

The consultant's final product is a Master Plan that will help the fair board chart a path for the next 20 to 25 years. Blair said the planning document, which was received just last week, could be in the hands of the fair board in time for its January meeting.

Blair said the fair has been raising money, through the adult prom fundraisers, for a new livestock show pavilion. At this time, it is not known where the facility will be built, or even what it will look like. All of that information will be determined once the fair board digests the master plan and its recommendations.

Currently, the fair has two facilities for livestock exhibition, the Sheep/Swine Arena and Beef/Dairy Arena. However, both are at full capacity during fair week, and are even used year-round for trade shows and winter storage. Blair said the new pavilion most likely will be a separate facility and won't replace either of the existing structures.

"We're always going to need auxiliary buildings," Blair said. "If we have an arena or a pavilion big enough to show two or three rings in, if we continue with the success we've had with the 4-H and the kids and the entries and the clubs growing like they have, we're still going to need space."

Blair said a new show pavilion will be a great benefit to the 4-H program. Currently, livestock shows are tightly scheduled throughout the day, with some starting as late as 8 p.m. With the addition of a new pavilion, those shows can take place during the day time.

For obvious reasons, the new show pavilion needs to be located next to the livestock barns. However, the fair board is looking to the consultant's report for advice on which spot makes the most sense.

"We know we're going to do it," Blair said. "And what we're hoping is that this master plan identifies the area where it goes. That may contribute to how big it can be."

Nothing is in stone yet, but Blair said one idea under consideration is relocating the harness racing track and moving the draft horse barn to make room for the new show pavilion.

Blair said the fair board wants a large free-span arena, but fair leadership still has to decide whether it will be open sided or enclosed.

The master plan will also outline a vision for developing the large block of land on the east end of the fairgrounds. Some ideas include an event center and pedestrian plaza. Blair said the fair is considering adding more space for camping.

There's no doubt the Elkhart County 4-H Fair is facing major decisions. Blair said the new show pavilion is the first thing to be built, and then other decisions will come after that. Part of the decision-making is a "feel as we go" process, he said, recognizing that the master plan is a guideline, not an end-all document.

Changes for next year include a $2 bump in the daily admission price. The cost to enter the fair will be $10 per person in 2018 (all 4-H'ers and children 10 and under are free). However, Blair said pre-sale tickets will be sold for $8 and can be purchased throughout fair week. In previous years, pre-sale tickets were available until the start of fair week. Parking is free. Grandstand admission is also free.

Blair promised that the quality of the fair will remain high, and that the fair will continue to focus on 4-H.

"This is unlike anything around the country," Blair said. "This fair is a big part of the fabric of this community."

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