By Eric Aasen Dallas Morning News.
On Labor Day, the Michigan State Fair wrapped up for the year, and forever. blame the end of the 160-year-old tradition on state budget cuts during the recession.
Other fairs are seeing their budgets dry up as governments spend precious dollars elsewhere. Is this the beginning of the end for state fairs?
With this years State Fair of Texas opening Friday(yesterday) Big Tex and company are far from calling it quits, fair officials say.
The country's longest and largest fair makes money, generating at least $5 million in profits each year based on about $70 million in revenues, fair officials say.
Unlike several other state fairs, the State Fair of Texas doesn't receive government funds.
But for the fair to continue making money on its own, officials have to keep things fresh and attact the crowds.
That means folding new exhibits, foods and rides into the mix of corny dogs and other fair standards.
"We've tried to keep the product relevant by constantly changing the product," said Errol McKoy, fair president. "We preach innovation."
The fair pushed for improvements at the Cotton Bowl, which helped keep the annual football clash between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma held during the fair. In 2011, the fair plans to launch a 500-foot high tower reminiscent of Seattle's Space Needle. The fair also hopes to open Summer Place Park, an amusement park, in 2012.
But those plans cost money. The fair took out a $20 million loan for its part of the stadium expansion. The tall tower costs $11 million, while Summer Place could cost up to $20 million.
For now, the fair is using its profits to pay for those projects. So, the pressure's on to keep the money rolling in.
"We need to have a good fair," McKoy said. "We need to be netting as much as possible.
Last year, the fair earned more than $29 million in concessions, admissions and various rental fees, about $900,000 less than in 2007,financial statements show. McKoy attributes the dip to the weather.(me:this year the weather is a lot cooler..should help)
But fair admission and merchandise revenue had grown each year between 2001 and 2007, according to Internal Revenue Service documents.
Financial records show that the fair has $11 million worth of cash and investments. The fair has an agreement with the city, which owns Fair Park, to have a reserve fund of at least $4.5 million.
Other fairs wish they could be so lucky.
The Michigan State Fair shut down after Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced the state would no longer subsidize the fair, which has been losing money. but some want to create a nonprofit group to take over the fair.
South Dakota's state government reduced its fair funding nearly in half, so the fair relied more on volunteers for this year's gathering.
Ohio was facing significant cuts in state funding, threatening next year's fair, but money was reinstated last week. Colorado's state fair emerged debt-free this year after being in the red since the early 90's.
Fairs are benefiting from people wanting to stay closer to home to save money during those tough economic times. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland encouraged Buckeye State residents to enjoy a "staycation." at their state fair.
Several fairs marked records attendance, including Minnesota and Indiana. Fair attendance was also up in North Dakota and Ohio.
McKoy believes the State Fair of Texas will get a boost. "We're a direct beneficiary of staycations," he said. "We think the same is gong to be true here as it has been across the country.
things new to this year's fair: Dart service, more than 25 new foods, including Deep Fried Butter, and Fernie's Deep Fried Peaches and Cream, winners of this year's Big Tex Choice Awards for best new foods. Other new foods include fried pecan pie, fried sweet potato on a stick, deep fried peanuts and chocolate-dipped jalapenos.
A band of pirates searches for gold and jewels in the new comedy "Pirates of the Caribbean Dive Show." The Esplanade Fountain with its 700-foot reflecting pool with a light and water show. Learn how to pan for gold as Colorado Mining Company offers a 15-minute educational sessions in the Coliseum Market Place. Mary Poppins, a musical, the Cotton Bowl will be soccer central with all sorts of soccer games including a match between Mexico and Colombia( Me: I bet there are fights and many arrests here) and to top it all off...Oprah's coming to the fair. She will tape her talk show at the fair on Oct. 12. (Me: that should be a hoot and a half).
I remember when I was a very little girl..right before my Daddy left the states to go to Hawaii, where we were to follow him in about a years time. Daddy took me to the Texas State Fair.just him and me..first we went to a movie in Dallas and I was so excited..I had a new dress, new pants, new socks and new shoes. I, who can remember the silver and black taffeta dress, the pink roses on my drawers and the pink lace on my white socks and the blue shirt my Daddy had on, can't remember what movie we saw..I was just that excited. Then we went to the Fair...Oh my Goddess, I ate cotton candy, ice cream, drank Dr Pepper's, rode all the rides..we finished it up by riding on the Ferris wheel..It stopped while we were at the very top and I remember looking out at all the lights and the stars in the sky and sitting there by my Daddy way up in the sky thinking.."It just doesn't get any better than this."....