LaPorte County fairgrounds

The LaPorte County fairgrounds could see work done to the buildings, including this exhibit hall, and grounds under a restructuring under consideration by the LaPorte County Board of Commissioners.

Doug Ross, The Times

LAPORTE — Preliminary approval has been given to a proposed restructuring of the LaPorte County fairgrounds to get the property back on solid financial footing and do some major upgrading.

The LaPorte County commissioners also decided unanimously Wednesday to make sure all of the players involved understand the boundaries contained in the restructuring agreement before they take a final vote in April.

Under the agreement, a new not-for-profit corporation will assume control of the property from the fair board.

The fair board will continue running the fair and have first rights to the property in the weeks leading up to and after the fair.

The agreement also stipulates LaPorte County 4-H will be given top priority in scheduling future use of the facilities to avoid conflicts with the various activities 4-H hosts on the grounds throughout the year.

Fair board members and others involved with the fair, including volunteers at Pioneer Land, are worried the new governing body will interfere with their use of the property and how they operate the fair.

Over the next several weeks, the commissioners plan to get all of the stakeholders together and further go over the restructuring agreement so everyone involved fully understands it.

Another goal is to build trust.

Rich Mrozinski, president of the LaPorte County Board of Commissioners, said it’s vital to have clear parameters outlined in the restructuring and everyone involved working together because the fair is run by volunteers.

He said some volunteers could step away if they feel their toes are being stepped on and leave the fair too shorthanded.

"We don’t want anybody interfering with the other entity especially the fair board. There’s a lot of good people out there doing a lot of work that we never see or hear about, and we don’t want to interfere with that. We don’t want to derail them," Mrozinski said.

The restructuring was laid out in the fall as a condition for a $250,000 loan the county issued to the fair board in 2011 being forgiven.

The loan was used to extend sewer lines to the fairgrounds, but the fair board wasn’t able to keep up with the payments.

LaPorte County Commissioner Vidya Kora said the main purpose of the restructuring is to ensure the fair continues to be strong and a source of enjoyment for everyone involved.

Scheduling more events also benefits the local economy.

"I think it’s a win, win for everybody," Kora said.

The not-for-profit group will consist of 11 people from the community, including elected officials, along with current and former members of the fair board.

The plan is to hire a full-time manager to bring in more concerts and other major events year-round to generate revenue for needs like electrical and building upgrades on the property.

The commissioners will decide the fate of the restructuring because the fairgrounds are owned by the county, said LaPorte County attorney Doug Biege.

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