DU QUOIN -- While the focus of Wednesday's news conference was road improvements at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, a brief announcement at the end of the meeting probably turned the most heads.
New fair manager Josh Gross said there will no longer be an admission charge to the Du Quoin State Fair, effective immediately.
"Since I started here, that's the one complaint I have heard out of everybody's mouth -- from Perry County to Jackson County and beyond. What are you going to do with that admission fee? People hate it. So, today, that fee has been taken away. There will still be a parking fee, but the daily admission fee is gone."
Gross said it is his hope that what the state loses in admission fees it will more than make up with added concession sales due to an increase in the number of patrons coming to the fair.
"That's my No. 1 goal -- to get more people to come back to the fair. And I think eliminating the admission fee is the best way we can do that," he said.
Speaking of road improvements, the Illinois Department of Transportation has been on site resurfacing the main road and its major arteries at the fairgrounds. Cost of the improvements is a little over $350,000. The project is a cooperative agreement between the Department of Agriculture and IDOT.
"Road and infrastructure improvements on the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds were long overdue," said John Sullivan, Department of Agriculture director. "I want to thank our partners at IDOT for working collaboratively with us to reinvest in the fairgrounds. We are committed to making this a great place to come every summer and we are committed to putting the (financial) resources needed into this, knowing what a great economic impact the fair has been in Perry and surrounding counties."
Sullivan reported that the most recent economic impact study shows that the Du Quoin State Fair has an annual economic impact of $6 million, including $2 million for wages and salaries, and generates more than $500,000 in sales tax revenue to the region.
"We hope this is just the beginning of improvements here at the fairgrounds," Gross said. "We know the public takes pride in the fairgrounds and we want that pride to continue to expand for years to come."
Gross thanked Sullivan and Gov. JB Pritzker for investing in the fair.
"When John hired me, he asked if there were anything I needed from him, and I said resources. I told him that I would turn those resources into something special."
Gross said the secondary roads on the fairgrounds would also be addressed as soon as possible. He added that $25,000 in grandstand repairs are also underway, which include support braces on the actual stage and $110,000 in upgrades at the Southern Illinois Center.
"There are also some smaller projects like barn renovations and some repainting of buildings. It will take some time to get things where we would like them to be."
Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said the fairgrounds look alive again.
"We have trucks repairing our roads, the grass is cut and the place looks beautiful," Alongi said. "It is our hope that more people will come out to the fair this year and demonstrate why the fair can be an economic engine, not only for Du Quoin and Perry County, but the entire region, Carbondale, Marion and Mount Vernon have most of the hotels and restaurants. They feed off this fair. Thanks to you, Mr. Sullivan, Josh and the governor for bringing life back to our fair."