More than the Midway: Fairgrounds and Agricultural Centers Provide a Unique Community Asset

September 22, 2014

A wise man recently told me that a 4-H steer will put up to 6 heads in a city’s beds. And that is just considering the contestant and their family who are going to stay in a hotel room, eat at local restaurants and shop in the community’s stores. Fairs are unique social events that attract millions of people looking for affordable entertainment, education, food and to be a part of a large, community-oriented, cultural showcase.

2014 has been an excellent year for fair attendance in America’s fairgrounds and agricultural centers. Populous recently completed major renovations to the historic Indiana State Fair Coliseum, originally built in 1939, and shortly after the renovation was unveiled, the State Fair in Indianapolis announced its 3rd highest attendance in its 160-year history. The Upper Missouri Valley Fair in Williston, North Dakota has increased numbers, despite bad weather. The Clay County Fair, in Spencer, Iowa, recently enjoyed its 4th largest attendance in 97 years. And crushing the nearest attendance record, the Minnesota State Fair brought in more than 1.8 million people in 12 days. The top 10 fairs in the United States continue to bring in more than 12 million people a year.

But the impact of fairgrounds & agricultural centers extends beyond just the “fair season,” which typically ranges from 3 days to 3 weeks, depending on the size of community or state they serve. We’ve seen a new business model emerge, where communities invest in fairgrounds as a year-round events complex and central community gathering space. There are a few reasons why fairgrounds & agricultural centers have attracted investment from local communities:

  • The fair is a unique event and an opportunity to connect the community to an existing site in their city
  • The fairgrounds already provide an economic benefit to the community from its annual event
  • Fairgrounds are designed with plenty of open space – making them ideal locations for hosting flexible outdoor events and festivals
  • Fairgrounds have good access to parking
  • Fairgrounds buildings have flexible floor plans that are becoming more multi-purpose in nature

Events held on fairgrounds can be bridges between farm and community, business and university. Fairgrounds are flexible complexes that can efficiently support a variety of events, ranging from rodeos to fashion shows and youth sports competitions to corporate conferences.

Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma State Fair Park just built a new covered outdoor arena, and are in the process of building a new, 200,000-square-foot Expo Hall. In Indianapolis, the Indiana State Fair completely renovated a 5,000-seat Coliseum and added 29,000-square-feet of additional exhibition space in its Youth Arena. These renovations feature two ice rinks and flexible event space which will accommodate concerts, trade shows, a minor league hockey team, a collegiate basketball team, conferences and, of course, livestock and equestrian shows.

Populous is also currently working with the National Western Stock Show and the City of Denver on a masterplan for a new National Western Center. While growing urban populations may be disconnected from where their food comes from, these cities realize the importance of the fair, livestock and agriculture industries to their communities.


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