The term “highest and best use” gets thrown around pretty casually, but it doesn’t really mean much because so much of the determination is subjective. Ask a fireman what the highest and best use of a fireplug is. Now ask a dog.
Because the DuPage County Fair Association’s lease on the 42-acre fairgrounds on Manchester Road in Wheaton expires in 2020, various interest groups have been circling in the water, each vying to see the property used for the things they think are important.
Each is convinced they know what the highest and best use for the fairgrounds is. The Wheaton Park District, for example, thinks it should be playing fields for the kinds of games that are much the rage today, such as lacrosse. Claiming they have a field problem, they believe using the fairgrounds for games will allow them to attract tournaments.
One is reminded of a similar argument by Central High School when it wanted to convert one of the Park District’s garden plot properties to a lacrosse field. Well, I don’t go by the place all that often, but I have never seen a game of any kind played there. What are the odds that a lacrosse complex at the fairgrounds would meet the same fate?
Advocates for the homeless and less fortunate are apparently convinced that the highest and best use is for low-income housing. They, of course, have absolutely no idea who would construct and manage such housing, or who might be inspired to develop such a property into “affordable” homes. In fact, such people probably don’t exist.
Advocates for the well off don’t have that problem. Property developers know exactly who would be inspired to turn the fairgrounds into what they consider the highest and best of all property uses, a well manicured subdivision. In fact, I suspect the lure of residential development was what caused the County Board to form the DuPage County Real Estate Assessment Task Force (task force?) in the first place. The land is worth millions.
They claim that they formed it because DuPage is no longer an agricultural county and because the fair has declining attendance and revenues. Why keep such a valuable property if it’s used only one week a year?
Well, because none of that is true. The fairgrounds hosts several animal shows each year in addition to the fair. It’s also home to 4H activities, home improvement and landscaping expos, flower shows, business meetings, dance showcases and flea markets. This fall, it will host the Great Midwest Train Show, the Wheaton Antique Market, a Fall Festival, and more activities than I have room to list. It’s a real benefit to our county.
A host of organizations and private parties rely on the fairgrounds and its facilities being there. They will have no place to go if it’s not. And there’s no reason for it to go. As I understand it, although it’s difficult to find out, attendance has been relatively steady at about 110,000, depending almost entirely on the weather, in the last three years the fair has at least broken even and probably made a modest profit, and the association still has considerable cash reserves. This fall, the association will release its own plans for the future, and I’ll do my best to let you know when they do.
So if you enjoy the demo derby, funnel cakes, duck racing, blacksmithing, rope making, pie contests, milking demonstrations, carnival rides, and all the rest of it, and want this wholesome family experience to be there for your grandchildren, tell the County Board to extend the lease so that investments can be made in the fairground amenities. And when someone tells you the land should be put to its highest and best use, just tell them it already is.Tags: Bill Mego