Josh Gross, Du Quoin State Fair manager

Josh Gross, Du Quoin State Fair manager, discusses infrastructure improvements at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds and the elimination of the admission fee for the fair on Wednesday in Du Quoin as John Sullivan (right), director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, looks on. There will still be a fee for parking at the fair.

DU QUOIN — The admission fee to enter the Du Quoin State Fair is no more, fair manager Josh Gross announced in a Wednesday news conference.

An admission fee of $2 for fairgoers age 13 and older went into effect for the 2016 Du Quoin State Fair. 

Gross and John Sullivan, director of Illinois Department of Agriculture, said they heard complaints about the admission fee.

“We are thrilled to have free admission back at the fair,” Sullivan said.

“Our plan is to welcome the community back to the fairground. As long as it is up to the two of us, it will never be back,” Gross said.

Parking on the fairgrounds will be $15. Parking in the big lot near the Southern Illinois Center will be $10.

During the news conference, Sullivan and Gross also announced more than $500,000 in improvements and repairs to the fairgrounds. While they talked, Illinois Department of Transportation employees continued work on Main Street.

Work on Main Street at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds

Illinois Department of Transportation crews work on tilling Main Street at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds on Wednesday in Du Quoin. IDOT is resurfacing the primary roads at the fairgrounds as part of a $500,000 project in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Gross said road improvements will begin with the four main roads, at a cost of just over $350,000. The work is expected to be completed by June 21. Gross hopes to expand road improvements to other roads on the grounds.

In addition to road improvements, several other capital projects are planned or underway, including: structural repairs to the Grandstand costing $25,000; $110,000 in repairs to Southern Illinois Center; barn renovations; and other building repairs.

Gross also pointed out a newly planted pollinator plot near the front gate and the work done to keep up with mowing, in spite of rain.

Sullivan and Gross were joined at the news conference by Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi, State Rep. Nathan Reitz, Perry County Commissioner Susan Hepp, Carrie Nichols of State Rep. Terri Bryant’s office, Keith Miley, IDOT District 9 operations engineer, and Jason Hinton of Du Quoin Impact Incarceration Program (boot camp).

Mayor Guy Alongi said the fairgrounds has “life again,” with the road work and mowed grass. He called Du Quoin State Fair vital to Southern Illinois.

“It is an economic engine for Southern Illinois, and we’re glad you finally brought life back to the fairgrounds,” Alongi said.

Sullivan thanked area legislators for supporting the capital bill that is funding most of the work.

“I’m glad to be part of the capital investments here,” Reitz said.

Sullivan also thanked inmates at the boot camp for the work they do for the fairground and the community. “They have been vital to flood-fighting efforts,” he said.

In a statement emailed Wednesday afternoon, State Rep. Terri Bryant said the people of Southern Illinois have been left behind when it comes to the state investing in construction projects, such as those needed at the fairground.

Du Quoin State Fairgrounds grandstand

Some minor structural work is planned for the grandstand at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds as part of several infrastructure and road improvements being done this summer.

“Investing in the future of the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds will ensure that the State Fair in late August and early September, and non-fair related events throughout the rest of the year, will continue undeterred by falling-in roofs, leaky pipes, and other maintenance needs,” Bryant said in the email. “Providing a world-class facility in the heart of Southern Illinois will mean weddings, conventions, and events like the Special Olympics softball tournament and the Street Machine Nationals will continue to happen and bring people and money to the region.”

Du Quoin State Fair will be Aug. 23 through Sept. 2. Gross said a lineup of Grandstand entertainers will be released Monday, June 17.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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