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Does the Du Quoin State Fair get short shrift?

  • The Illinois state flag waves over the damaged main entrance to the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds. State funding for entertainment at the fair in the recently approved state budget falls well short of what was apportioned to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and some local mayors say the state underestimates the value the Du Quoin fair has for the broader regional economy.

    The Illinois state flag waves over the damaged main entrance to the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds. State funding for entertainment at the fair in the recently approved state budget falls well short of what was apportioned to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and some local mayors say the state underestimates the value the Du Quoin fair has for the broader regional economy.
    Geoffrey Ritter photo

  • The Du Quoin Fair Grandstand was rushed to completion in 1945, after the original wooden bleachers burned. 'I'll put our fairgrounds up against any in the United States,' Mayor Guy Alongi said while still noting a shortcoming. 'Here the stage is right on the grandstand. In Springfield the stage is on the other side of the track.'

    The Du Quoin Fair Grandstand was rushed to completion in 1945, after the original wooden bleachers burned. 'I'll put our fairgrounds up against any in the United States,' Mayor Guy Alongi said while still noting a shortcoming. 'Here the stage is right on the grandstand. In Springfield the stage is on the other side of the track.'
    Geoffrey Ritter photo

  • Mayor Guy Alongi said the vast funding gap between the Du Quoin State Fair and its larger counterpart in Springfield needs to be reexamined. 'I do think we need to be treated fairly,' he said. 'I'm just looking for an equal shake.'

    Mayor Guy Alongi said the vast funding gap between the Du Quoin State Fair and its larger counterpart in Springfield needs to be reexamined. 'I do think we need to be treated fairly,' he said. 'I'm just looking for an equal shake.'
    Call file photo

 
 
Posted on 7/19/2017, 12:14 PM

The Du Quoin State Fair has been a staple of southern Illinois summers for nearly a century -- and as local mayors know, it also has been an important economic driver.

When Illinois finally passed a budget earlier this month, some of these mayors were disheartened to note that the downstate event once again was the "stepchild" to its Springfield counterpart.

While the Illinois State Fair in Springfield will receive $5.5 million for entertainment this year, the Du Quoin State Fair will net just $696,000.

Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said he realizes the Du Quoin event is on a somewhat smaller scale, but the issue is one of fairness.

"I do think we need to be treated fairly," he said. "As a mayor, I'm just looking for an equal shake."

Sesser Mayor Jason Ashmore agrees.

"Springfield needs to remember that southern Illinois is still part of the state of Illinois," he said, "and this part of the region needs to be invested in just like the rest of the state."

Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz took to Facebook for voice his support for the fair.

"It is critical that we Southern Illinoisans keep the Du Quoin State Fair in full operation for the economy of Southern Illinois," he wrote. "We cannot afford to lose such a historic asset."

Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry knows well the economic impact the fair has on his city.

"The economic impact on Carbondale is significant to the positive," he said. "Our hotel rooms are booked that weekend completely full. Our restaurants are really busy."

Alongi pointed out that the fair is not just specific to Du Quoin.

"It's an economic engine for the entire region," he said.

Ashmore estimates that thousands of people come through Sesser during the fair.

"Tourism is our biggest economic engine, and the fair falls in that category," he said. "People come from all over, from other states. All those people spend money when they visit."

Ashmore believes the fair really pays for itself.

"When you think about all the money and tax revenues that come in, " he said, "it's an economic boom. That goes for Illinois, too. They get their piece when people stop and buy."

Alongi said he realizes the "guys running the Department of Agriculture have a tough job" and his intention is not to bash the state, but the inequity in entertainment funding puts the Du Quoin event at a disadvantage.

"It's the mindset up north," he said, explaining that Du Quoin cannot afford to pay more popular acts on such a limited budget.

The biggest draw in Du Quoin this year is Nelly, while Springfield sports a lineup that includes Pentatonix, Alabama, Sublime and Chase Rice, among other top industry names.

"People drive to St. Louis and pay big money to see big entertainers," Alongi said. "If you build it they'll come. If you book big name entertainment, we'll sell the tickets."

Alongi said the state needs to realize what a gem it has in the fairgrounds.

"It's a beautiful facility," he said, "if they could just cross their T's and dot there I's."

Alongi has suggested a fair advisory board for the downstate event.

"The people in Springfield need to realize that the culture of Springfield and Du Quoin is different," he said. "One is a lion and one is a tiger."

He said putting together local entrepreneurs "like Harry Crisp and Cynde Bunch" and letting them guide state officials would help.

"Look at what Black Diamond does," he said, referring to the Marion business. "They get Kid Rock and draw 15,000 people. The state needs to look at what they're doing and duplicate that."

Both Ashmore and Alongi said the fairgrounds could be better utilized year-round for other events.

"The state just sat on its feet on the eclipse," Alongi said. "You tell me a better place in southern Illinois besides the Du Quoin fairground to watch the eclipse."

Ashmore is firm in his belief that the fair needs a bigger entertainment budget.

"They (the current acts) were good in their day, but you need someone newer," he said.

According to figures at celebritytalent.net, the minimum booking fees for just two of the Springfield acts, Alabama and Brad Paisley, are nearly equal to the entire Du Quoin entertainment budget. Paisley gets a minimum of $500,000, while Alabama's minimum is $150,000.

Although some believe that Illinois doesn't need two state fairs, Alongi said that "deep down" he believes the state is committed to the Du Quoin State Fair.

"There's actually legislation that says the state has to have two state fairs," he said. "That doesn't mean it can't be un-legislated at the drop of a pen."

He also said he believes it's a work in progress.

"Let's face it," he said. "We've come off four or five bad years at the state level. We've had no budget for two years, but we've got one now. It's time for the rubber to meet the road."

Ashmore agrees.

"Investment creates jobs," he said. "That is a fact. They (the state) need to remember that when it comes to southern Illinois."