Department of Agriculture asks for ideas to revitalize State Fair

Attendance at the Springfield, Illinois 2016 State Fair dropped by more than 13% on a year-to-year basis. While severe weather events – heading by a flood-level cloudburst on the night of a key scheduled musical concert – were blamed for part of the attendance shortfall the overall numbers indicated growing problems with bringing in fair-going customers and exhibitors this year. Springfield fair attendance fell from 411,547 in 2015 to 357,409 in 2016.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture, which operates the Illinois State Fair, has begun an 80,000-recipient survey exercise. A wide variety of selected Fair attendees are being sent online questionnaires intended to gather data about their State Fair visit. Questions include requests for data on potentially controversial subjects, such as the recent hike in State Fair admission ticket prices. People who get the survey will be asked to rate various facets of the State Fair experience, including exhibits, entertainment, and food. Respondents will also be asked to help the State Fair understand how many miles people travelled to attend the Fair, how many tickets were bought by a household, and whether a ticketholder also visited the Fair on a different day.

Results from the survey may be used to help shape future State Fair revitalization decisions. One of the biggest challenges facing the Fair is the infrastructure of the buildings and grounds that house most of the Fair’s activities. The new State Fair friendship foundation board, which intends to become the governing authority of a new private-sector body that is seeking 501-c-3 status, held its first meeting last month. If and when the new foundation achieves designation from the federal government as a nonprofit body, it will begin active fundraising with the goal of raising badly needed funds to begin the task of rebuilding the State Fairgrounds. Donations could include large gifts that would convey naming rights over sections and buildings within the Fairgrounds.