Members of the Nebraska State Fair Board were busy at their July meeting in Grand Island Friday planning for the fair’s 150th anniversary. This year’s State Fair runs from Aug. 23 through Sept. 2.
But the board also took some time to talk about the State Fair’s future.
Last year, the State Fair took a long, hard look at its facilities at Fonner Park. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Nebraska State Fair moving from Lincoln to Grand Island.
When the fair moved to Fonner Park in 2010, there was a more than $40 million investment in new infrastructure at Fonner Park to accommodate the State Fair’s new home.
Over the last 10 years, said Lori Cox, State Fair executive director, the fair has grown and expanded at its Fonner Park home.
But Cox and the board wanted to look at their facilities and infrastructure needs at Fonner Park to see what their needs would be in growing the fair for the future.
After looking at a study of their facilities and infrastructure, they began the preliminary planning process to develop a capital campaign that would help them pay for the estimated $20 million to $40 million that would be needed to support future fair growth.
Among the developments on their list of improvements is a new swine pavilion. The current building was constructed when the fair moved from Lincoln to Grand Island 10 years ago.
While that structure is still a premium site for the swine show, one area of the State Fair that has grown over the last 10 years is livestock show involving smaller animals, such as poultry, goats and rabbits.
Those shows are now in the Sheep Barn. But with the growth of those small livestock projects, it has created a space problem for the fair.
Another area of importance identified in the study of the facilities and infrastructure used by the State Fair is a problem with drainage, especially after heavy rainstorms. That was evident this year during a national livestock show at Fonner Park, when there were huge puddles that were slow to drain along the road near the livestock facilities.
Also being considered is building an amphitheater that would house live outdoor concerts and could accommodate larger crowds than the Heartland Events Center, which seats about 5,500 people.
The State Fair discontinued its outdoor concert series last year because of infrastructure problems. The outdoor concert series had been in the infield of the horse race track at Fonner Park.
Several of the concerts, during the three years of the outdoor concert series, drew close to 12,000 people. Having a larger concert venue could make the State Fair more competitive in attracting big national acts that charge more than $750,000 per show.
The board is working with Byrne Pelofsky, a national company that works with nonprofit organizations to raise money. Byrne Pelofsky would work with the State Fair to identify funding sources for their proposed capital campaign. Their cost to the State Fair would be $75,000 initially to begin to put together a capital campaign to raise the estimated $20 million to $40 million needed for the improvements.
The board tabled a motion to hire Pelofsky until November. It decided to prioritize the projects for which the capital campaign would raise money and work with the Nebraska State Fair 1867 Foundation on the project.
Also, as the board met in its offices in the Nebraska Building at Fonner Park, outside, the Hall County Fair was going on.
In recent years, Hall County Fair dates had to be rescheduled to accommodate the growing number of national livestock shows held at Fonner Park in June and July.
Those national shows provide an off-season use for the livestock facilities at Fonner Park that were built there when the State Fair moved to Grand Island. The Hall County Fair has also been able to use the livestock facilities to improve its show for youth and open class livestock competitions, along with the thousands of static displays that are a traditional part of the Hall County Fair.
The board is considering a memorandum of understanding with the Hall County Fair that would bring it a more certain scheduling date for the fair.
One aspect of the MOU is that the Hall County Fair could be held during August.
Cox said the discussions are preliminary as there are many factors to consider about the MOU.
“I think the most important thing for us is that we have to be and want to be good stewards with our relationship with the Hall County Fair,” she said.
Cox said the Hall County Fair and other county fairs are essential as youths bring their projects to the State Fair and 4-H is a vital part of the success of the Nebraska State Fair.
The board also discussed working with the Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority (GILCA) to develop a plan when it comes to the cost of labor in preparing and cleaning the livestock barns when a national livestock show comes to Fonner Park.
GILCA is made up of representatives of the Nebraska State Fair, Fonner Park, the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Our concern is that we have no revenue stream to compensate for our time,” Cox said.
The State Fair and Fonner Park currently share those cleanup and preparation costs.
“Any amount of time we contribute to GILCA takes away time from us preparing for the Nebraska State Fair,” she said.
Cox said talks with GILCA are ongoing.