Manar2014RSPRINGFIELD – When an underground cable at the Illinois State Fairgrounds failed in early 2008, state officials quickly learned that the entire system supplying power to the sprawling campus on Springfield’s north end was in dire need of replacement.

The repair work cost taxpayers nearly $3 million and the work shutdown the Fairgrounds for months, forcing annual events like boat shows to either cancel or scramble to find new locations. Local media reports pegged the economic loss to the city and businesses in the millions of dollars.

All along, it had been no secret that the power system was on its last legs. But the cash-strapped state simply never budgeted or never had the resources to make the repairs and upgrades until there was an emergency.

State Senator Andy Manar (D–Bunker Hill) is proposing an alternative, one that he hopes will result in increased investment in maintaining the Fairgrounds and facilities, which are a vital economic showplace for the city of Springfield.

“There are people around the state and across the country who are passionate about the Illinois State Fair and, I believe, would be willing to show their financial support for it,” Manar said. “The state cannot go out and fundraise to support the Fairgrounds, but a non-profit group can.”

Manar is sponsoring legislation to create such a group.

Senate Bill 2903 would create the Illinois State Fairgrounds Foundation, a not-for-profit entity, to help raise private funds to cover the cost of facility upgrades and repairs, which have ballooned over the years to nearly $30 million.

“The fairgrounds need some major improvements, and the reality is it’s difficult to get funding for these projects when the state budget is shrinking,” Manar said. “We can’t afford for this vital facility to fall into disrepair.”

Allowing slot machines at the fairgrounds to help fund maintenance projects has been proposed for years, but multiple failed attempts to pass a gaming expansion bill have left many looking for another funding source.

“The foundation would be a funding alternative to gaming expansion, and one I believe will be much easier to pass in the General Assembly,” Manar said.

Manar’s proposal, Senate Bill 2903, passed out of the Agriculture and Conservation Committee Tuesday and now awaits approval by the full Senate.

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