- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A state panel has endorsed keeping the Utah State Fair at its historic Salt Lake City location despite criticism that the annual event is pricey and poorly attended.

Thursday’s vote of confidence from a group of Utah lawmakers supported renewing the Fair Board’s lease on the state-owned State Fairpark grounds, reported The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/1MsuIYi).

The lease would also provide $10 million of state money to make improvements to the grounds’ aging facilities.

Their recommendation will be passed on to the Legislature’s top budget committee, which is expected to debate the issue when lawmakers convene in 2016.

Paid attendance to the 11-day fair has declined since 2008, but fair managers said the traditional 160-year-old event’s importance outweighs low ticket sales. Fair Board members also argue that a new multi-year lease will enable them to increase attendance and gain sponsors.

Some fair supporters aren’t keen on the idea of waiting for more debate and want the lease renewed as soon as possible.

“The time for studies and discussions should be over,” said Bryce Garner, chairman of the Fairpark Community Council. “Anything that brings sustainability to the fair and keeps the fairgrounds where they are, intact, is something we wholeheartedly support.”

The lawmakers’ vote of confidence coincides with announcements from officials for Salt Lake County’s fair and the Days of ‘47 Rodeo that they are considering moving to the State Fairpark.

Days of ‘47 Rodeo Chairman Kem Gardner, an influential developer and philanthropist, said moving his show to the Fairpark would cut some staging and transportation costs while giving him room to expand offerings.

But he said it would also mean upgrading the Fairpark’s facilities, attracting more year-round sponsors and building a larger arena on the property.

“We can put together a first-class facility,” Gardner told state lawmakers, “but it’s going to cost you some money.”

He also told lawmakers he’d like to see the fairgrounds preserved as “part of our state heritage.”

“It’s really a remarkable thing to have that large a piece of land in the middle of the city,” Gardner said. “While we can always come up with higher and better uses, I don’t know that you want to fill that up with houses or office buildings.”

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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