The Indiana State Fairgrounds has a place in every Hoosier’s heart, but it is a dramatically underused campus. For decades, surrounding neighborhoods have struggled while the Indiana State Fair Commission razed surrounding buildings for parking lots and installed a hedge of chain link to isolate itself.
My vision is to rethink the campus as not an isolated event center, but an interconnected neighborhood that successfully balances enormous events with a thriving, walkable community.
Rather than isolated behind a fence, neighborhood streets could be reconnected to the outside. Rather than spending $50 million on a deluxe swine barn, we could build parking garages along the planned Blue and Purple lines to drastically reduce the more than 100 acres of surface parking. Rather than reserve the Track of Champions for an annual horse race and band competition, it could be transformed into a flexible urban park that could anchor the campus and be interwoven with a critically needed new campus for the Indiana deaf and blind schools. Rather than create a vacuum of activity for most of the year, mixed-income housing and commercial nodes could create a walkable neighborhood where people are excited to live.
This idea is not new. The Indiana State Fair’s original home was on what is now Military Park downtown; it was moved as the growing city’s needs changed. It moved to Camp Morton for several decades until, again, the growing city needed its valuable land. We now know the resulting development as Herron-Morton Place, one of our most iconic core neighborhoods.
Remembering the city’s bicentennial, we should make a similar move by acknowledging our changing city and creating a new anchor for our economy and communities.•