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Utah State Fair Opens for another Year, but Future is in Question

Andrea Smardon
Cooper and Tina Thirkill riding the ponies on the opening day of the Utah State Fair. (Sept. 10, 2015)

The Utah State Fair opened its gates Thursday for another ten days of fried dough, ponies, and Ferris wheel rides, but the future of the Fairpark is uncertain.

During the last state legislative session, lawmakers debated whether to renew a long-term lease for the Fairpark. At the time, there was a possibility that Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen might build a soccer stadium there. Democratic Senator Jim Dabakis of Salt Lake City made it sound like this may be the last hope for the Fair.

“The property has deteriorated, where it’s condemned, where we’re not getting funding,” Dabakis said. “This is our moment, this is the year, either we’re going to keep a state fair, we’re going to fund it, we’re going to approve a plan and get the lease signed, or we’re going to say you know what, it’s over!”

The legislature put off a decision on the lease, and Real Salt Lake chose a different location for its stadium.

“We need the State Fair, for heavens sakes,” says Don Child, who has worked at the fair, offering pony rides for 40 years.“You know, just a little tradition. It’s got a taste of the old, it’s got, you know, the freshest things out there. I guarantee it’s going to go this year and next year. I’d put my word on it because I have a contract.”

That may be true, but the question is what happens in 2017? That’s when the Fairpark’s current lease with the state runs out. Ted Lewis is a member of the Board of Directors for the Fair Corporation and the interim executive director.

“I’m very confident that we will continue the Fair Operations here, we’ll continue them in this location, and that we’ll have the blessing of the legislature to try build up and accelerate the kinds of things that go on here,” Lewis says.

He says he has a new business plan to keep the Fairpark going. It involves more and bigger activities using the space year-round. But he says, it will require the legislature to approve a long-term lease as soon as possible.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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