Day At The Track

Is Jackson County ready to host the fair?

03:17 AM 24 Jul 2019 NZST
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Jackson County Fairgrounds
Jackson County Fairgrounds
J. Scott Park | Photo

JACKSON, MI – Jackson County Fair Manager Denise Owens has heard the rumors: Skeptics don't believe the fairgrounds will be ready to host the fair Aug. 4-10.

But Owens is confident that the Jackson County Fairgrounds/Keeley Park will be ready, albeit without some of the  finishing touches like landscaping.

Construction crews have been busy this summer making the redesigned fairgrounds a reality. Changes for 2019 include removal of part of the harness-racing track and new spots for the midway and parking. 

Construction of the new events center is underway, but it won't open until 2020.

"It's going to happen," Owens said. "I had a guy call me yesterday and bet me $10 it wasn't going to happen. I said, 'Well you just march down here, right now, and give me that $10, because it's going to happen.'"

Rumors that the fair might move to Michigan International Speedway aren't true, Owens said – not only because the fairgrounds will be ready, but also because MIS is hosting a race the same week. 

"We are doing everything we can to make this the best experience – knowing that you're going to see a little dirt in a few places," Owens said. "Just the convenience of the layout is tremendous."

Here's a look at the progress of the construction and a guide to where everything will be setup for the fair.

Courtesy of Jackson County

An overview

This rendering from Jackson County shows the final plan for the fairgrounds, including new parking lots and new park space. 

While this will be the look for the 2020 fair, a few components aren't quite finished for August's fair, Owens said.

Courtesy of Jackson County

A new midway

Instead of on the south end of the property, the new midway is shaped like an upside-down U in the infield of the former harness-racing track. 

In past years, this was where visitors would park. Crews are working on growing grass in this area.

"We're out there watering like crazy," Owens said. "I think you will see grass, it won't look really thick and full, but people will identify it as grass."

J. Scott Park |


J. Scott Park |

Where to park

General parking for the fair is at the old prison site on North Street, which was Michigan's first state prison from 1838 to 1934. Jackson County bought the property earlier this year for $175,000 and plans to shuttle people west on North Street to the north fair entrance. 

Parking is $5, like always, but the shuttle ride is free. The shuttle stops running each night at 11 p.m., Owens said. 

The area can hold more than 1,000 cars, and is larger than the infield parking space from previous years.

J. Scott Park |

County officials have wanted to move parking from the interior of the fair to the exterior for years, partly for safety reasons. It's much easier to search a person, than to search someone's whole vehicle, officials said when vying for the change.

"There's very few fairs anymore that allow people to drive into the center of the fair," Owens said. "There's a lot of reasons that needs to be thought out."

J. Scott Park |

Other parking, food vendors

There are new parking lots on the south side of the property, but they aren't for general admission fairgoers. 

The parking lot on the southwest corner is the handicap lot, with a new entrance off Ganson Street. The lots just south of the midway will be used for vendors and vendor parking.

The county owns a lot on Blackstone Street that's traditionally been used for parking, but it will be used for vendor camping space this year. Homeowners on streets surrounding the fair often allow parking on their property for a fee, as do some businesses along Ganson Street.


Walk-up ticket sales

For 2019, walk-up admission is staying where it's been along Ganson Street, Owens said. Starting next year, walk-up tickets will be sold in the new American 1 Events Center.

J. Scott Park |

The new building

Construction continues on the new American 1 Events Center, and will continue throughout fair week. 

However, concrete pouring will be delayed until the week after the fair, due to the disruption it would cause, Owens said.

It will be roped off during the fair, so attendees won't be able to take a look inside.  

Courtesy of Jackson County

The $6.4 million building is on schedule, Owens said, with plans to open in March 2020. The event center is 35,000 square feet, including a 20,000-square-foot event space, a public meeting room, a concourse, a catering kitchen and office space.

Courtesy of Jackson County

The picnic area between the new American 1 Events Center and the Herman Gumper also won't open until 2020.

J. Scott Park |


While part of the track has been torn out, the grandstand isn't going anywhere. With recent changes, the structure built in 1920 is easier to see from anywhere in the area. 

Temporary fencing will go up during the fair to block it from view of fairgoers – although concert attendees will see the midway in the backdrop of the concert stage.


Temporary movie screen

The county parks department recently purchased a large, blow-up movie screen, which will be utilized at the fair this year. The screen will be set up north of the midway area, and "Charlotte's Web" will play at dusk on Thursday night, Owens said.

One of the vendors plans to hand out free popcorn during the movie, she said.

J. Scott Park |

The old American 1 Events Center

Vendor booths are available under the grandstands and inside the old American 1 Events Center, like in previous years. A new walkway has been constructed to connect the midway with the building.


The free act

This year's free act at the fair is called K9s in Flight, with dogs doing tricks like catching flying discs and leaping into pools. The free act will be stationed just south of the grandstand area.

J. Scott Park |

The beer tent

The beer tent is back in 2019, being set up just south of the track and stage area. It opens at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 4 and 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 5 through Friday, Aug. 9. 

This area will become a parking lot in the future, but won't be paved in time for this year's fair. Millings will be put down as a sturdy, temporary surface.

Courtesy of Jackson County

Video renderings

To see a video walkthrough of renderings, with what the fairgrounds are designed to look like, click here.

Courtesy of Jackson County

Courtesy of Jackson County
J. Scott Park |

For more photos of the construction progress at the fairgrounds, click here.

By Taylor DesOrmeau |

Reprinted with permission of

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