Want to Improve the Utah State Fair? Then Think Outside the Stall

Rep. Steve Handy

Question: What do prime beef and prime real estate have in common?  


On July 29, Utah Policy’s Bob Bernick opined about the Utah State Fair and its 67 acre, long-standing home saying, “What exactly to do with the Fairpark has been debated for as long as I’ve covered the Legislature, more than 35 years.”

Well, Bob, the debate continues although I don’t think you’re going to be doing this for the next 35, are you? But I’d like to add something to the discussion anyway. 

As we’ve listened to comprehensive testimony in the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee from a bevy of consultants about their findings and recommendations regarding the Fair and the Fairpark, I can’t help but feel that this is all too familiar. And I haven’t even been around the legislature for 35 years and certainly won’t  be there for another 35!  

But in keeping with the agriculture theme, the discussion seems a little like a scene from the movie, Groundhog Day. Except that for the past two years we’ve been using the acronym  PRADA, or Prison Relocation Development Authority. For the record, I voted for the resolution to move the prison because of this one simple and overriding fact that was stated over and over by a number of pols so it’s hard to attribute it to any one person: “I can’t think of a worse place for the Utah State Prison than where it is now.”

That’s it, let me say it, “I can’t think of a worse place for the Utah State Fair than where it is now.”

Times change. The Utah State Prison moved from Sugarhouse and now it’s going to move from Draper. Get the hint State Fairpark? Your days of showing off prime beef should move to prime real estate, Utah Choice! But that doesn’t mean the Fair itself is ready for the slaughterhouse, far from it.

Agriculture in Utah is big business, about $17 billion worth, and we should show off, showcase, applaud, and whoop it up for our farmers and ranchers. Their roots go a lot deeper than the 2 inches of grass I’ve got on my front lawn. Utah Ag people understand the land and they care for it. So an annual gathering to celebrate Utah’s rural past, present, and future, plus remind us of the vital parts that food and fiber play in our economy and society today is appropriate and important.

And we need a Utah State Fair and other events like county fairs to educate and remind our youth that the hamburger on their plate tonight traveled a long trail before it ended up in a nice package at Smith’s.

The consultants have studied whether or not other states always have their state fair in the capital city. Most do not. Clear to me and others, however, is that having the Utah State Fair on the west side of Salt Lake City hasn’t been working well for sometime, maybe the 35 years Bob writes about, and won’t work at that location in the future regardless of how much money we pump into the aging infrastructure. It’s just in the wrong place! A new soccer stadium would be a nice addition, however, but that really doesn’t solve the problem. The legislature appropriated $3.5 million to aid with the old and failing facilities for this fall’s Fair and that’s only going to continue.

While the consultants know of no other states that have a traveling state fair, my thinking is that since we understand pioneering in Utah, let’s pioneer.

Why not move the Utah State Fair closer to Ag people and do it in conjunction with a county fair? Let the state continue to put resources into it and let the counties compete for a short, multi-year contract, say two years. Some will argue that facilities in Davis County or Weber County, two venues I’m very familiar with, aren’t big enough and maybe they aren’t. But let’s figure it out.

Heck, we’re the state that put on the 2002 Winter Games dubbed the best ever. Certainly we can determine how to put on a better State Fair that’s closer to the people who are closer to the land and who will appreciate it more.

I’d love to travel to the Utah State Fair in Logan, Tremonton, Farmington, and several other venues and so will a lot of other people if there’s quality. We can figure this out, we really can, and we don’t need another 35 years of discussion.

In the meantime, the old State Fairpark and facilities, far past a designation as prime, should continue to be studied just as we’re doing with the Draper prison site. What are the highest and best uses? The consultants already have a good idea. The state of Utah should retain some of that 67 acres for future office buildings but the rest should be developed and improved by the private sector. That can only benefit and add vitality to  the surrounding area better than a 10-day State Fair and occasional other events.

So let’s think outside of the stall. As far as I know, Albert Einstein wasn’t a farmer but he sure had some good, old, down-home wisdom when he said, “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again (think of Bob’s 35 years) and expecting a different result.”