Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Hortense and I were strolling from our car to the Exposition Hall of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Our goal was the Indiana Artisan Marketplace, but we had to pass the Southwest Pavilion where they were holding the Midwest Reptile Show.
“Despicable,” was her comment and I could not disagree. “How many of those snakes and other ’pets’ will survive the week? Isn’t the State Fair supposed to be an educational and environmentally responsible arm of state government?”
“I don’t know,” I said in response to each of these questions. “I’m not sure what the State Fair is supposed to be or what the State Fairgrounds is supposed to be other than the landlord of the State Fair.”
“That’s why they should get rid of it,” Hortense declared.
“What?” I cried too loudly. “Get rid of the State Fair?”
“Yes,” Hortense was emphatic. “Here we have 250 acres of land smack in the middle of the state serving as a place where nature is exploited rather than appreciated. This entire establishment is designed for entertainment and excess, not for the cultural enrichment of the many but the financial benefit of the few.”
I could feel the aura of a headache, the precursor of distress as these words were spoken. Our casual outing was verging toward the cliff of philosophical discord.
Then, with our goal in sight, I made the big mistake when I said, “What would you do about the Fair and the Fairgrounds?”
“Privatize them,” was her terse answer.
“But they are a public good, a resource for Indianapolis, Marion County, the metro area, and the entire state,” I objected. “They represent tradition and values inherent in the lives of everyday Hoosiers.
“You cannot sell off or lease state assets as if they were the Toll Road, parking meters, or entire departments of government.”
“And why not?” she asked, but did not wait for a reply. “This is an entertainment facility with aspirations to compete with the private market for convention and tourism business.
“But the Fairgrounds pay no taxes like a private venue would. Their 2011 annual report shows subsidies from the state of $7 million with no flow of cash back to the general fund,” she continued.
“Who would buy such a property?” I asked.
“No problem,” she responded. “I can think of at least three classes of potential buyers. First, entertainment companies like Disney. Here is an ideal urban complex that will someday be located on the natural transit route between Downtown, Castleton and Fishers.
“Second, developers who want to build a city-within-a-city. Think what such a massive construction project would mean to the rejuvenation of Indianapolis. Thousands of condos and high rise office buildings all integrated with parking, public transit, shopping and a natural linkage to Fall Creek.
“Third, a conservation group that has a chance to recover and preserve a large natural space in a developed city. Find me another such opportunity!”
“Here we are,” I changed the subject. “The Artisan Marketplace, a chance to enhance the interest of any home with brilliant Hoosier crafts.”
And it was true. There were many booths with delightful works of talented people. I’d bet none of them thought of privatizing the Fairgrounds.
Morton Marcus is an independent economist, writer and speaker. Contact him at email@example.com.