La PORTE – Hoping to get more events lined up at the La Porte County Fairgrounds – and stop draining county resources to do it – a new management corporation will be taking over operation of the facility, and one of the first orders of business will be a new name.
The not-for-profit La Porte County Fairgrounds Management and Events Corporation board of directors has been meeting monthly for more than a year, with a goal of "providing resources necessary to attract and host events on a year-round basis," according to Patricia Harris, chair of FMEC's Planning & Marketing Committee.
"The top priority is to hire a business manager for FMEC to oversee operations at the fairgrounds," she said.
Another will be renaming the grounds – on State Road 2 on the southwest side of La Porte.
"Research has shown that the name should reflect the purpose of the facility," Harris said.
And because plans are do much more than just host the annual La Porte County 4-H Fair, a branding change is called for.
"We would like the name to represent what the facility will be in the future. We want it to reach out to a national and international market and also make a statement about La Porte County."
Before the new name can be effective however, a lot of preparation was necessary.
The first priority for the 11-member board, which includes stakeholders from across La Porte County, was "to make the necessary infrastructure improvements to the county-owned property in order to provide a safe and efficient venue for all events," Harris said.
Among the improvements already complete are upgrades to electrical services, expanded and improved water lines, and sanitary sewer upgrades, she said.
Last fall, the county approved that work, with the price estimated at nearly $800,000. And in April, the County Council approved an additional appropriation of $125,000 to pay for infrastructure improvements.
"The goals for infrastructure improvements are 80 percent complete, with some additional work planned to improve roads, parking and technology," Harris said.
FMEC will formally begin management of the facility on Jan. 1, 2020, but the process started two years ago.
In July 2017, the County Council, by resolution, announced management of the facility would be overhauled. It said the five-year-old lease agreement with the La Porte County Agricultural Association was “impractical” and no longer binding because the association was facing “severe financial challenges” in managing and maintaining the fairgrounds.
Although the property is owned by the county, the 4-H Fair and other events had been managed since 1845 by the Fair Board, which was also responsible for maintaining and leasing the grounds throughout the year.
The resolution called for creation of the new not-for-profit to maintain and manage the site, and like the Fair Board, be charged a $1 annual “rent” fee.
But the resolution also said the FMEC's responsibilities would "go above and beyond preparing the fairgrounds for the annual fair to include a variety of exhibitions, concerts, functions and events."
It also recommended the new lease include a revenue-sharing component with county government, so in years when revenues exceed expenses, a percentage of the net gain could be returned to taxpayers.
The new board includes representation from the County Council, Board of Commissioners, Fair Board, Purdue Cooperative Extension, Pioneer Land, La Porte County 4-H, La Porte County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and a member appointed by the sheriff.
They meet on the third Thursday of each month at 5 p.m. in the Sheriff’s building at the fairgrounds, and all meetings are open to the public.
MORE THAN JUST THE FAIR
Marketing for the La Porte County Fairgrounds should "reach out to the global community," according to Patricia Harris, chair of the La Porte County Fairgrounds Management and Events Corporation's Planning & Marketing Committee, "so the board is seeking suggestions from the community on a new name."
Have a suggestion for renaming the Fairgrounds? Ideas and suggestions should be directed to Harris at 219-879-6902 or firstname.lastname@example.org.