Plans for future fairgrounds development are unveiled

by Keri Solis

Marquette County Economic Development and Tourism Coordinator

For more than a century, the Marquette County Fairgrounds in Westfield have been a place for friends to gather, entertainment to be enjoyed, and community members to showcase their talents at the annual fair. 

Through a series of surveys over the past few years, residents and visitors to the area indicated the desire for more entertainment to be brought to the county as a whole. In response to questions centered around the fairgrounds, respondents reported that during the fair they would like to see a full rodeo, along with the fair continuing to have live music and tractor pulls. Outside of the fair, they would like to see live music events at the grounds. 

With a lack of wedding venues in the area, many thought with the right improvements, the grounds could be very desirable for both weddings and receptions. Another survey on the spending of taxpayer dollars had investment in broadband and investment in places the public can utilize ranked number one. Many of the comments on that survey specifically mentioned the desire for improvements to the fairgrounds. 

In 2021, a committee with representatives from the county board, county property management, FFA, 4-H, fair board, the village of Westfield, and economic development was created to explore the future use of the fairgrounds. Information was also gathered through visits to other fairgrounds and event grounds throughout the state. Committee members also spoke to various types of event organizers to understand specific needs they may have when considering Westfield as a potential location for their function. 

In the fall of 2021 Economic Development and Tourism Coordinator, Keri Solis, along with County Property Director, Paul Van Treeck were successfully awarded a technical assistance grant bringing engineers and planners from East Central Regional Planning Commission, Ayres and Associates, and other engineering firms to Westfield to provide a preliminary review of the grounds and a concept for future grounds use.

The county then hired Excel Engineering to work on a master plan. After meeting with the committee several times throughout the process, the plan was revealed to the full county board at the October 2022 board meeting. 

The first step will be addressing stormwater runoff issues throughout the grounds. Once these issues have been rectified, it will allow for future phases of the plan, which include the following:

The committee identified the need for a building that could be utilized year-round. As a result, the existing “exhibit” building would be insulated and air conditioning and heating would be added. A kitchen would be added to the exterior of the building, along with a storage area and bathroom renovations. This would allow for building to be used for various shows, meetings, wedding receptions and other events. 

The current 4-H food stand is located at the lowest spot on the grounds, and during heavy rain, water collects at the stand. This stand will be taken down and the area will be made into a green space that can collect rain runoff. During dry times it can be utilized as a picnic area. 

The nearby Farm Bureau Stand would also be removed and a new concession area and pavilion would be constructed to the east of the exhibit building to house both the 4-H and Farm Bureau Food stands. The area that currently holds the midway during the fair would be expanded and moved slightly to the north. The American Legion beer stand would remain where it currently is. 

On the south side of the property, the current camping area would be expanded to allow for more camping space during the fair and at other events. In addition, the current horse barn and a livestock barn would be removed and a new livestock building would be constructed with moveable pens. These pens will allow flexibility for various types of animals to be housed in the building both during the fair and for other livestock events outside of the fair.  In addition, the plan includes restrooms and showers in the building. This building also has the potential to serve as a storm shelter, both during events on the grounds and for members of the general public who need a safe place to go to during a tornado warning. 

The east side of the property would be rearranged, with the baseball diamond being relocated from the center of the greenspace to the north. The tractor pull area would be shifted to the south and a full-sized rodeo ring would be installed with a warm up ring nearby for horses. Behind the rodeo ring would be a greenspace that could be used for concerts, or during the fair it could also be used for parking and staging for the tractor pull. 

Instead of putting up a new grandstand for events, portable bleachers with a seating capacity of 1500 would be purchased. This would allow bleachers to be moved to wherever they are needed on the grounds and they could also be rented out to other events. 

From the south side of the grounds at the camping area, a walking path would be put in that would go back to the mill pond and come out on the north side of the property near the relocated baseball field. There is also the possibility of piers being put on the pond. Hiking and shore fishing were two things that ranked very high on an outdoor recreation survey, which is why they were incorporated into the plan. 

The centerpiece of the grounds is the historic round barn. At over 100 years old, all of the engineers and planners that were a part of the process were in awe of the architectural features and beauty of this building. Plans call for the building to be renovated into a three-season event space, with a warming kitchen, bathroom, and storage being added to the exterior of the building.

Additional parking stalls will be added near where the 4-H food stand is currently located, which will offer spaces close to the exhibit building outside of the fair. A portion of the current parking area will be paved and marked with parking stalls, with the rest of the parking remaining grass.

Over the past year, progress has been made on some of the items identified early in the process, such as some storm water mitigation work, and a new roof and siding on the round barn. Future work on the fairgrounds will be a collaboration between the county and the community through fundraising, donations, and naming rights.