Group agrees on need to preserve Utah State Fair, spruce up fairgrounds – Salt Lake Tribune

These unanimous endorsements will go to the Legislature’s top budget committee, setting up further debate when lawmakers convene their 2016 session in January.

The prospect of more debate was frustrating to some fair supporters who urged that the lease be renewed as soon as possible.

“The time for studies and discussions should be over,” said Bryce Garner, chairman of the Fairpark Community Council. “Anything that brings sustainability to the fair and keeps the fairgrounds where they are, intact, is something we wholeheartedly support.”

Renewing the Fair Board’s lease on the 66-acre fairgrounds — which sits on a prime piece of western Salt Lake City real estate — has stalled amid state concerns over the site’s continued financial losses, reliance on government subsidies and what some see as waning interest in the historic celebration of farm life.

Paid attendance at the 11-day event has declined since 2008, although fair managers say the number of tickets sold does not fully reflect the 160-year-old event’s importance to tradition.

Fair Board members, meanwhile, reiterated that not having a new multiyear lease on the fairgrounds has damaged their ability to increase attendance, sign lucrative partnerships with additional sponsors and hire a new fair executive director.

Fair Board Chairman Roger Beattie said Thursday he was “absolutely thrilled” that the fair’s challenges were finally getting statewide attention and welcomed the prospect of new partners at the urban fairgrounds.

Kem Gardner, chairman of the Days of ’47 Rodeo, said relocating the show there from its current venue at Vivint Smart Home Arena, formerly known as EnergySolutions Arena, would cut some staging and transportation costs while allowing the rodeo to expand its offerings and draw larger crowds.

But, Gardner said, the move also would require upgrading aging Fairpark facilities, luring more business sponsors of events year-round and building a new multiuse, 10,000-seat arena at the fairgrounds to replace the current 3,600-seat bowl.

“We can put together a first-class facility,” Gardner told state lawmakers, “but it’s going to cost you some money.”

The influential developer and philanthropist also urged officials to preserve the fairgrounds site instead of selling it for development, calling the land “part of our state heritage.”

“It’s really a remarkable thing to have that large a piece of land in the middle of the city,” Gardner said. “While we can always come up with higher and better uses, I don’t know that you want to fill that up with houses or office buildings.”

Managers of the Salt Lake County Fair — now held at the county-owned Equestrian Park in South Jordan — are in the midst of their own facilities study, given that Equestrian Park’s buildings are also antiquated and in need of repair.

High-end residential neighborhoods have filled in around the South Jordan park site at about 12000 South and Redwood Road, raising issues with noise, a county official said.

“We’ve learned very clearly that our amenities are not at the level they need to be to bring other events to the venue,” said Erin Litvack, county director of community services.