Farmer City mulls fair association's latest land exchange offer

FARMER CITY – The director of the group that runs the Farmer City Fair says his organization has offered a park on the south side of town and prime development land next to the Interstate 74 interchange in exchange for the fairgrounds.

If the Farmer City Council agrees with the proposal, it could end a standoff between the association and the city that has stretched for nearly three decades.

The city owns the fairgrounds, which include the Farmer City Raceway, and the fair association owns South Park, which the city uses for baseball, soccer, bike racing and recreation.

The association wants permanent control over the fairgrounds so it can qualify for fair grant money from the state. The city council said it wants to retain the fairgrounds for possible economic development purposes.

"Countless hours have gone into these negotiations," Fair Association President Bill Rutledge said. "To use poker terminology, we're all in. We can't do any more than what we have offered. We believe we have provided the city with an alternative that is win-win for the community."

Fair Association Executive Director Rick Corneglio on Friday unveiled a proposal it made to the city council behind closed doors March 19.

Under the proposal:

– The city would give the fair association the fairgrounds property.

Corneglio said that, based on recent property sales in Farmer City, the grounds are valued at about $400,000.

– The fair association would give the city South Park.

The association believes the land at South Park, not counting its improvements, is worth about $70,000.

– The fair association would give the city 20 to 25 acres of prime development property northwest of the Illinois 54/I-74 interchange.

"In the course of our meeting with the city council, economic development seemed to be what they were most interested in," Corneglio said. "This gives the city a prime location for that."

– If the association decides to sell the fairgrounds, the city would have the right to match any price offered to the association.

"If somebody offers us X amount of dollars, the city would have a chance to buy it at that price," Corneglio said.

– The fair association would have the option to transfer up to 1 acre of land at the fairgrounds to the Farmer City American Legion for the possible expansion of the legion's facilities.

Corneglio said terms of a possible deal with the American Legion still need to be negotiated.

Farmer City Manager David Joswiak said the city had no comment on the proposal. But he said the city council is expected to vote at its meeting Monday night on a resolution to hold a public hearing on the exchange of properties. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Farmer City Hall, 105 S. Main St.

"There will be a resolution to vote on," Joswiak said. "It doesn't mean they have to vote on it Monday night."

If the council approves holding the public hearing, most likely some time in May, Joswiak said the council could take a final vote on the proposal at any time following the public hearing.

"Everything has been very fluid in the process," Joswiak said. "The proposed change is a pretty complicated transaction."

If the city council rejects the fair association's offer, the association could terminate the city's lease for South Park and invoke a clause requiring the property be restored to its original farmland condition.

If the fair association were to terminate its lease with the city, Corneglio said, it would cost the city more than $260,000 to restore the park to its original condition and rebuild baseball and soccer fields and a BMX bicycle track at a new site.

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