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Belleville and St. Clair County approve joint purchase of Belle-Clair Fairgrounds

Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
The 22.5 acre Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center in Belleville will soon have new ownership. The property is located at 200 South Belt East near the intersection of Illinois 159 and 15.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The 22.5 acre Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center in Belleville will soon have new ownership.

The Belleville City Council and St. Clair County Board voted Thursday night in separate meetings to approve an intergovernmental agreement to purchase the property for $2.35 million. It was listed for sale for $2.4 million earlier this year.

St. Clair County is covering the cost with federal COVID-related relief funds from the American Rescue Plan. That’s because the county wants to use the property for emergency services, as well as continued hospitality and tourism, according to County Board Chairman Mark Kern.

“I think this is a good day for the county ... The main purpose of this is to be able to provide a place should there be a disaster in the county,” Kern said. “This is the only facility in St. Clair County that would suffice. It has the size and the capabilities.

“During the pandemic, we had over 100,000 vaccinations given by the county (at the fairgrounds). We know it can provide the opportunity we need should there be a major incident.”

After a 15-minute closed session discussion, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the agreement at a 6 p.m. special meeting. Three aldermen were absent, including Ward 1’s Joe Hazel, Ward 2’s Jamie Eros and Ward 3’s Kent Randle.

The city of Belleville will own one out of 51 shares of stock in Belle-Clair Fairgrounds Park Inc., the corporation through which the property operates. The county will own the rest.

“The county is going to actually be buying it,” Belleville Mayor Patty Gregory said. “The city’s role will be what it’s always been, to continue with police and fire protection, and also I’m sure there will be times when, with the events, we will have input and we will be actively helping with marketing.”

The St. Clair County Board’s finance committee also discussed the agreement for 15 minutes behind closed doors at a 5:30 p.m. special meeting before recommending that the full board sign it. The board’s closed session discussion at a 7 p.m. special meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

County Board District 13’s Stephen Reeb was absent. Three board members voted against the agreement, including District 20’s Ed Cockrell, District 24’s Kevin Dawson and District 19’s Phil Henning.

“I wouldn’t expect anybody in this room to do this deal with their money,” Cockrell said. “I wouldn’t do it with my money. I wouldn’t ask anybody to do that. I just don’t think the taxpayers of St. Clair County should do this with their money.”

Gregory and Kern verified that Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center will continue to function as an event center with no interruption for events already scheduled.

Events such as a monthly flea market and craft shows currently take place at the fairgrounds. It has also been the home of the St. Clair County Fair and Ainad Shriners Circus.

Gregory called the property acquisition a “win-win situation, especially with the anticipation of remodeling.” She said it’s good for the city because of economic activity and sales taxes generated by the fairgrounds.

“We’re very excited about the possibilities,” the mayor said. “We’re accomplishing so many things in the city because of our relationship with the county. It’s really helping the city move forward in a positive direction.”

According to the real estate listing, Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center includes a 58,919-square-foot steel building with a bar and kitchen and a 3-acre dirt race track with two grandstands.

The listing states that the property was rehabbed in 1980.

Teri Maddox and Lexi Cortes are reporters with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
The Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center located at 200 South Belt East was listed for sale earlier this year.

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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