Area parks, fairgrounds to allow alcohol sales

Wedding guests and wine or beer enthusiasts will soon be able to sip on beverages at the fairgrounds and Johnson County Park.

For more than 15 years, alcohol sales have not been allowed on county property, including the fairgrounds and parks. But now, vendors will be able to sell alcohol at wedding receptions, concerts, wine tasting events or flea markets due to a change in thinking by county officials.

In 1999, the three-person board of commissioners banned the sale of alcohol on county-owned property after a musician, sponsored by a beer company, was going to perform at the Johnson County Park. The beer company was planning on selling alcohol at the event, but commissioners at the time stood against the sale of beer on government property.

The concert was ultimately moved to another venue in Noblesville, just days before the event.

But nearly every year since, commissioners have debated whether to allow vendors to sell wine, beer or liquor at Johnson County Park and the county fairgrounds. They’ve given the change preliminary approval.

The hope is that allowing alcohol to be sold will bring more business to the park and fairgrounds, commissioner Brian Baird said. For example, the amphitheater at Johnson County Park could host concerts with wine or beer being sold and more couples might choose the fairgrounds for a wedding reception if they can serve alcohol.

For now, wine and beer can be sold, but hard liquor is not allowed, Baird said. The rule change still prohibits alcohol at Independence Park in the Center Grove area, and no alcohol will be served at the 4-H fair.

In order to sell alcohol during other events at the fairgrounds or at the county park near Edinburgh, the vendor must provide liability insurance to the county, file for a permit and cover security costs such as hiring an off-duty police officer to patrol during the event, Baird said.

“(It’s) something we hope will generate money for the fairgrounds, and serve a need in the community,” Johnson County Fair Board president Larry Vandenberg said.

Companies, musicians or residents want to have events at the Johnson County Park or fairgrounds, but then pick another location since they cannot sell alcohol, Baird said.

About seven of every 10 people who inquire about renting the fairgrounds for a wedding reception ask if alcohol is allowed, Vandenberg said. At least partially due to the answer being no, only three or four wedding receptions take place at the fairgrounds each year, groundskeeper Gary Mitchell said.

“We’re losing a lot of that business because we don’t allow beer and wine,” Baird said.

Other than wedding receptions, the fairgrounds have only a handful of events on site besides the annual county fair, such as antique flea markets and car shows, Mitchell said. In recent years, local wineries and breweries have wanted to host a wine tasting at the fairgrounds, but couldn’t due to the county rule, Vandenberg said.

Other fairs including the Shelby County fair and the Indiana State Fair allow alcohol to be sold, but the Johnson County fair board is not considering that option, he said.

If the change is approved, the county parks department would like to plan a concert or wine-tasting event at the county park in southern Johnson County, county parks and recreation director Megan Bowman said.

“Our plan is to start small and just do it as we can,” Bowman said.

Alcohol could even be sold at the annual Fanfare and Fireworks event this summer, she said.

The symphony orchestra that typically plays will not be available for the event this year, so Bowman is looking for a band to perform, she said. Wine or beer could be sold during the show, Bowman said.