A group studying the future of the Utah State Fair made the right decision this week by voting unanimously to recommend keeping the annual event at 1000 West and North Temple. Abandoning a site in which the state recently has invested millions would have made no sense.
The Fairpark Task Force needs to second that recommendation from its subcommittee. Then, state lawmakers should solidify the commitment by investing the money needed to make the Fairpark look presentable.If many of the old and crumbling buildings were restored and renovated, fair officials likely could earn more money renting facilities to various groups during the year. The coliseum, for one, could be a great venue for small concerts. Today, however, its balcony is considered unsafe and unusable.
Aggressive year-round rentals would repay much of the cost of renovation and reduce the state's annual subsidy to the fair. It also would restore pride in a park that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But renting facilities at the Fairpark won't be easy. Officials will be competing with downtown interests that also offer space for rent. That is why the study group also recommended the state hire a full-time marketing specialist - a move that makes sense if the state is serious about improving the facilities.
The subcommittee soon will travel to four states to see how other fairs are operated. Its members may return with suggestions for ways to privatize or reorganize various events. This is a progressive step toward improving the fair. Again, however, privatization will work only after the Fairpark is made much more attractive.
After studying the issue, members of the group found plenty of reasons to keep the fair where it is. Among them: The historic buildings are irreplaceable; the site has a strong historic tradition; the site is large enough to suit all fair needs; and, if it left, the fair probably would be replaced by houses or apartments, and the state would lose some tax revenue it now generates.
With the 1994 State Fair less than a month away, and with the morale of fair officials suffering from a spate of bad news, including the recent temporary suspension of the fair director, the group's conclusions are timely and encouraging.