As ideas come and go, current legislators are advocating a long-term lease and money for development and maintenance of present historic facilities at the Utah State Fairpark, which has been the home of the Utah State Fair since 1902.
The Fair draws tens of thousands of people annually, but in some years heavy autumn rain lowers attendance. Due to fluctuating ticket sales, the annual State Fair doesn’t cover all the bills, and state politicians have put pressure on the Fairpark to come up with solutions that would make the Fairpark more self-sustaining.
In 2014, the State Division of Facilities Construction and Management hired independent architectural firm CRSA to conduct a study of the “highest and best use” of the land. Kathy Wheadon of CRSA said their final report recommended year-round use and long-term tenants, like the present Department of Motor Vehicles.
According to Wheadon, the Utah State Fairpark is neither the largest nor most valuable piece of state land, but “at 65 acres, it is the anchor tenant of the west side.”
Outdoor concerts have long generated income at the Fairpark. Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton, Kenny Rogers, The Cure, and Reba MacIntire all played there, to name just a few. The noise from these outdoor shows can sometimes draw complaints from neighbors. For instance, at 10:30 p.m. on 700 North almost a mile away, when Rare Earth could be heard singing “I Just Want To Celebrate…” this reporter was thinking, “I Just Want To Sleep.”
However, other neighbors don’t mind the concerts. Local artist and Fairpark resident Ann Pineda says that she found the recent Vann’s Warped Tour to be a pleasant experience, with interesting people and no invasive noise.
Pineda is a passionate and vocal advocate for the preservation of the Utah State Fairpark. “The Fairgrounds belong to the people of this state. The history of the Fairpark comes out of a tradition of supporting individual enterprise, skill, and craftsmanship,” she said.
Pineda would love to see well-designed spaces at the Fairpark where people can get information or take workshops that help them do things for themselves, like greenhouse growing, dog training, urban farming, raising chickens. Other ideas include offering some type of small business incubator or temporary employment opportunities.
District 1 Salt Lake City Councilman James Rogers would love to see a type of “Pike’s Market” on the site, and notes for an example that the Downtown Farmer’s Market and indoor Winter Market, held every other week at the historical Rio Grande terminal are going strong. He likes the idea of ethnic “Food Pods” at the Fairpark, based on the diversity of the west side.
Rogers notes that the State of Utah has total control of the grounds, and appreciates their commitment to extending the Fair’s lease on the property for 25 years. West side state representatives Sandra Hollins and Angela Romero advocate a minimum of 40 years.
Although talks continue about hosting the Salt Lake County Fair, and perhaps bringing the Days of ‘47 Rodeo back to this location, where it existed for many decades in the past, these issues are just talk at the moment.
The Fairpark Community Council reported on their website that a group of Utah lawmakers supported renewing the Fair Board's lease in November 2015, and advocated putting up to $10 million towards improving show buildings and other facilities. Their endorsement will go to the Legislature's top budget committee for consideration during the 2016 session.