Gov. Mike DeWine and Adam Heffron, Ohio Expo Center & State Fairgrounds Executive Director, among others, offered an update of the early-stage construction on the grounds.

Groundbreaking highlights early progress at Ohio Expo Center

By Matt Reese

On May 13, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and representatives from the Ohio Expo Center & State Fairgrounds broke ground on two buildings to revitalize the fairgrounds in Columbus, the Ohio Showcase Building and the new agriculture building. 

Angela Krile, Ohio Expositions Commission chair, was on hand for the event and pleased with the progress so far.

“We had the official groundbreaking today, but we have broken ground here a while ago and there’s lots of ground being moved behind us as we speak. We are in the process of the first phase of the master plan for the Expo 2050 Task Force that the Governor commissioned to try to envision the fair of the future — a fairgrounds that could be used 365 days the year for amazing events,” Krile said. “We have three phases that we’re working on right now. One is infrastructure — the things under our feet that we don’t see but are needed to keep these fairgrounds running. The second piece is an Ohio Showcase building, which showcases the history of Ohio as well as local food vendors from around the state. The third thing, which I’m most excited about, is a new agriculture horticulture building. We don’t have an official name for it yet but it will encompass both the old agriculture/horticulture building and the Taste of Ohio Café. It will allow families to come in learn about agriculture and how food gets on their plate and then walk in and actually experience the food on their plate from our wonderful commodity partners that cook and prepare that food every day at the fair.”

Once constructed, the Ohio Showcase Building will house a food hall and exhibit space to tell the story of Ohio’s people, land, communities, and innovation. The food hall will house six restaurants/vendors that will offer unique regional dishes from throughout Ohio, with ample indoor and outdoor dining space. This building is slated for completion in 2026.

The new agriculture building will house the Taste of Ohio Café, with meals served by Ohio’s agricultural commodity groups. The building will also house the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Land & Living Exhibit as well as other agricultural exhibits. The exhibit hall will feature more than 100,000 square feet of space for a variety of events.

For Krile, the progress is bittersweet.

“I came here for 4-H judging as a kid and spent the day. My most fun memory was I would do my project judging and then I would change into fair clothes and then go out and experience the fair, that was my reward for doing a good job at judging. When you walk onto the grounds and you see buildings that you spent time in gone, that’s hard and it did bring a little tear to my eye when I pulled in today,” she said. “But I’m super excited about the facilities that we’re bringing online. The improvements to the grounds are just going to make this experience so much more exciting, engaging, safer and better technology for all the fairgoers for generations to come. When my great-grandchildren come on these fairgrounds, while they might not be walking in the same buildings that I walked in, they’ll have the opportunity to experience same things I did.”

Governor DeWine created the 2050 Task Force in 2019 to develop a strategic vision for the future of the 360-acre state fairgrounds, which has been home to the Ohio State Fair since 1886.

“There is so much to enjoy at the Ohio State Fair, and the enhancements to these spectacular fairgrounds will make the experience even better,” DeWine said. “These projects will preserve the historic beauty and character of the fairgrounds, while also adding modern improvements that showcase everything great about our state.”

With funding support from the Ohio General Assembly, other Expo 2050 master plan projects currently underway include:

  • A large entry gate will welcome visitors from the main north parking lots between the fairgrounds and Historic Crew Stadium. It will create an iconic entry with photo opportunities including the Great Seal of the State of Ohio. The site will also include permanent ticket booths and functional canopy space to cover pre-event security screenings. The historic 11th Avenue OHIO Gate will remain preserved and untouched.
  • Gathering space at a new town square at the center of the fairgrounds will feature additional food, family-friendly resting areas, and children’s activities. During the rest of the year when the fair is not underway, the comfortable areas and reorganized space can accommodate the unique needs of the various events held at the facility.
  • Enhanced underground infrastructure will improve internet connectivity throughout the fairgrounds, separate storm and sewer systems, and ensure electrical access and flexibility for food vendors and other events held at the site throughout the year. In addition, the work will be topped with beautiful landscaping and a defined navigational pathway through the grounds.

“Our partners and stakeholders have a deep and rich connection with the fairgrounds,” said Adam Heffron, Ohio Expo Center & State Fairgrounds Executive Director. “Since I started in this role in March, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with many of these partners, and it is clear that this facility holds a special place in their hearts. I’m thankful they’ve been able to have a voice in the development of the Master Plan, and now, the architectural and design work.”

Future projects include renovations to the Dairy Products Building to allow more space to view the iconic butter cow. A historic district will be developed on the south side of the grounds that will incorporate one of the fairground’s early 1900s-era pavilions.

To make way for construction, several other sites on the grounds have already been demolished including the Ohio Building, which previously housed the Taste of Ohio Café.

The Expo 2050 master plan was developed by Wellogy, a third-party consultant with expansive experience in the industry. Additional partners include the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, Populous, Turner Construction, Hill International, EDGE, Korda, 3C Industries, Bennett Engineering, Inc., BCL, and Roto.

The Ohio Expo Center is proud to host the Ohio State Fair. The 2024 Ohio State Fair will run July 24 – Aug. 4.

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