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State Fair Park's Future Remains Uncertain

CRSA Architects


Attendance keeps declining at the State Fair Park in Salt Lake City -- at least partly because the grounds are so run down, and lawmakers are grappling with what to do next.

Around the country, attendance has trended up at state fairs, but that’s not been the case in Utah. About 20 percent fewer people visited last year than just five years earlier.

Legislative auditors said this spring that the fair will be insolvent in 2 or 3 years unless it makes some changes. Kathy Wheadon, a consultant for CRSA Architecture, offered some insights this week to a Capitol Hill committee.

“What we do see is that our fair has a struggle to be able to have non-fair-season use,” she said, “and that mostly is because there has been kind of a dearth of public improvements to the fair park facilities.”

The price tag for improvements could be higher than $80 million. Wheadon said that would allow them to make several needed changes, such as building a convention center on site, updating the barns for year-round commercial use and finishing refurbishing the equestrian complex.

“Doing any work on this site is not free,” she said. “There are, as we said, significant buildings and significant structures that have been long left to take care of themselves.”

One other option under consideration is turning the whole fair site into a commercial development. Another is moving the fair around to various counties or establishing a new home, possibly in tandem with a new recreation complex in Herriman.

“We’ve got to look at this methodically, I guess, and make a decision as to where we go with this,” said Larry, a Democrat who represents West Valley City.

“And, as a Salt Lake County resident, and representing those people in Salt Lake County, we’d prefer to have that remain as is. I think it’s very important. It has a lot of history. And everybody that grew up in Salt Lake County has some kind of tie with that fair park in one way or another.”

What’s not clear yet, is how much value lawmakers will put on keeping the fair at its current location on the west side of Salt Lake City’s downtown.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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