Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Every day, Brook Bernier walks her dogs along the Jordan River Parkway Trail near her home, and each time, she looks at the historic buildings on the Utah State Fairpark grounds and wonders what could be.
"It's been ignored for so long. It's just not in good repair and it's not a very well-used space. Nothing's changed since I've lived here. Nothing's been improved on it," she said.
Utah's legislators are also taking a close look at what the grounds have to offer.
The state recently hired CRSA, a design and planning firm, to conduct a 90-day study of the fairgrounds and White Ball Park to determine what viable options exist for future use of the area.
"What we're going to do is craft a series of framework plans," said Kathy Wheadon, a senior principal with the firm. "That might be from retaining the fairgrounds as it is, (develop) business and recreation opportunities to make the fair more successful, all the way to private development."
The grounds were acquired by the state in 1902 and have since been the designated host site for the annual state fair. But the fair wasn't the only time the grounds saw visitors, according to Fairpark community councilman Tom King.
"During my earlier years, a lot of use was made of the park because it was properly maintained. So when people rented it and had events there, they were well attended," he said.
In the 1980s, the state designated a non-profit organization to manage the site, but didn't give the organization the rights or proper funding to make repairs or improvements on the property, King said. Since then, non-fair events have gone elsewhere in search of more functional venues.
As part of the study, CRSA held an open house last week to get a sense of what Rose Park and Fairpark area residents want for the grounds.
Judy Hinckley, a Rose Park resident who runs a store on the grounds during the annual fair, expressed a desire held by most area residents:
"Keep the fair where it is. I'd like to see the grounds being improved," she said. "It's going to take some money and some time, but I think it would be well worth it. ... I want to see it being used on a daily basis."
The study began last month with an analysis of existing conditions. Wednesday's open house was part of the study's scenario development phase to explore possibilities. The third and final phase will end next month with a consolidation of ideas and a presentation of "two or three" scenarios to the state Legislature, according to CRSA planner Donald Buaku.
Wheadon said fiscal viability is only one of many factors the state will consider in its "highest and best use" for the grounds.
"When we ask the question of highest and best use, usually what we mean is the financial decision about what's the fiscal impact to the state," Wheadon said. "But as a cultural facility, highest and best use might be ... the opportunity to have interface between the agricultural community and the entire state and has a different kind of value."
That kind of value resonates with community members like King:
"There are other things besides making a dollar today that I can define as having value. And one of those things is maintenance of historic traditions," King said. "That's what the Utah State Fair is — it's a historical tradition that is worthy of being maintained."
For Bernier, the daily walk with her dogs will be a reminder of the hope of what lays ahead for Fairpark.
"We want to make sure that whatever goes in there is approachable to everybody," she said. "I hope people get jazzed up on the creative possibilities."
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