Farmer City residents fear loss of fairgrounds, track, park

Farmer City residents fear loss of fairgrounds, track, park

FARMER CITY – Some Farmer City residents are beginning to fear the ramifications if the city council and the Farmer City Fair Association are unable to settle their impasse over the fate of the Farmer City fairgrounds and raceway and South Park.

The fair association leases the fairgrounds and raceway from the city, while the city leases the park from the fair association.

Mayor Delwin "Buster" Kirby said if the current lease with the fair association is allowed to expire in 2009, the lease requires the fair association to tear down all the fairground buildings and remove the race track.

At South Park, if the city's lease on the park expires, the city will be required to remove all the baseball and softball diamonds, soccer fields and other play structures, according to fair association board member Rick Corneglio.

"All the roads will be gone, and all the buildings will be gone," Corneglio said.

John Strum of rural Farmer City said he doesn't like the thought of a Farmer City where children no longer have a place to play, where the race cars and economic impact of the raceway become a faded memory and no more fairs are being held.

"(The Fair Association) could turn South Park into farm ground and sell it," Strum said. "The kids are going to become the losers of all this feuding. The adults of Farmer City are fighting over something stupid and playing silly games, and it hurts kids. I don't like any kids losing anything."

Gary Risler, who organizes dozens of 50-50 raffles at raceway events for the Sons of the American Legion to raise money for local charities, social programs and nonprofit organizations, said many needy people will be hurt if the raceway closes.

"Those raffles do a lot for the city and the surrounding area," Risler said.

Risler said the raffles have paid for equipment for the ambulance service and fire department, cancer research, funeral dinners, the Legion post, the Children's Miracle Network, Special Olympics, Make a Wish Foundation, the Angel Tree, bus safety programs, candy for the Christmas parade, the Weldon Springs War Memorial, packages for local soldiers in Iraq and bingo for patients at Danville's VA Hospital.

"I hope the city and fair board can come to a compromise on the issues at hand that will benefit both them and the citizens," Risler said. "We don't want to lose what we have."

Risler said the Sons of the American Legion have been holding 26 raffles a year for the last 15 years. Each one raises between $175 to $2,000, depending on participation.

For the third consecutive meeting, the Farmer City Council met behind closed doors to discuss its options.

Council members spent the 50-minute closed session ironing out details of a proposal it could make to the association, according to City Manager Dave Joswiak.

"We discussed the wording of a resolution that would discuss the council's position," Joswiak said.

While the council has not yet tipped its hand, Corneglio said the association has no desire to keep its preferences secret.

"The preferred option would be for the city and fair association to exchange the fairgrounds for South Park, with the fair association giving the city the right to get the fairgrounds back if the fair association would disband.

Corneglio said the association's second choice would be for the city and association to swap long-term leases.

"Ideally, I'd like to see something lasting 40 years or longer; the longer the better," Corneglio said.

The fair association needs either ownership or a long-term lease in order to qualify for fair grants from the state, Corneglio said. Money for these grants indirectly comes from wagers at horse racing tracks around the state.

If either of the association's first two choices won't work, Corneglio said the association would be willing to give the city South Park and some cash in exchange for the fairgrounds.

Joswiak said the council plans on voting on that proposal July 10.

"It will be a response to what the fair association has requested," Joswiak said. "We'll say what we'd like to see happen and why."

Fair Association board member Verle Emerson said his board likely won't vote on accepting or rejecting the city's proposal until it meets on Aug. 2.

Joswiak said final resolution of the conflict will take several months or more.

"This could potentially take several years," he said.

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