BELLEVILLE, Ill. – The Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center will stay intact and retain its current slate of events under new ownership.

St. Clair County and the City of Belleville will acquire the venue later this month after board voters approved a plan Thursday evening.

After some formalities, the municipalities will acquire the event center. A Fairgrounds Corporation consisting of several shareholders has owned the property for decades, and the group has attempted to sell the property for several years.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, who first shared about the acquisition Friday morning via Facebook, tells FOX 2 it became a priority to acquire the venue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health officials administered more than 100,000 vaccinations at the site, proving how valuable such a site could be for the Belleville community in a time of emergency.

“At that point, we found that it was the only facility that we have in our county that is able to handle a mass event,” said Kern. “Whether it’s COVID, or a tornado, or an earthquake … that was always the place we counted on should there be a major incident in the county.”

St. Clair County’s plan to retain the site involves $3.25 million of ARPA funds.

Existing events, such as the site’s monthly flea markets and item shows, will remain as scheduled. County officials also hope to bring back the St. Clair County Fair and racing events at the racetrack, neither of which have happened over the last several years.

“There’s a lot of life that comes from the Fairgrounds,” said Kern. “It’s been an integral part of this community and county. We just hope to fill the fairgrounds with more use.”

Before the county’s acquisition, some residents were concerned the event center could be sold to owners who wanted to transform it into a storage facility. That is no longer the case, though Kern says some of the space might be used for animal adoption services in the future.

For more information on the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center, click here.