Sell or keep Utah State Fairpark? Study outlines costs and benefits

Published: Friday, July 11 2014 6:45 p.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, July 12 2014 6:01 p.m. MDT

Utah State Fairpark on May 16, 2014.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News Archives

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — The state will need to spend around $33 million to keep the Utah State Fairpark alive, according to a study assessing future options for the park.

It's a hefty but worthwhile investment in a piece of Utah history, said Fairpark Community Councilman Tom King.

"It's one of the key assets in our capital city," King said. "I think that for the people of Utah, the best thing to do is invest a sufficient amount of money in the State Fairpark where it is to maintain its historical continuity."

CRSA, a design and planning firm, was commissioned by the Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management to examine the existing conditions of the grounds and the options to continue hosting the state fair there or taking it elsewhere.

The study says the $33 million is needed over a 20-year period, but roughly half of that is required immediately to bring the historic buildings up to code, according to division spokeswoman Marilee Richins.

"If they choose to continue forth with the fair where it is, then they've got to invest some money in it," Richins said. "About $10 million to $15 million is needed just to bring the existing structure up to the standards that we hold state buildings accountable to."

Additional infrastructure, such as new rodeo grounds, retail venues or a convention center, would help the Fairpark thrive during other times of the year, according to the study.

The study examined state fairs in similar cities across the country that have become profitable year-round.

"We see plenty of peer comparisons that show that the fair could be profitable," CRSA senior principal Kathy Wheadon said. "We see that as a totally reasonable expectation."

Current Fairpark revenues, however, are not enough to fund the structural additions, which could cost as much as $47 million.

"There will never be enough revenue generation from the Fairpark Corporation to facilitate the construction of those projects independent of the Legislature," Wheadon said. "So the Legislature needs to make a decision about values and making it a year-round active gateway into Salt Lake City."

Replacing the Fairpark and building at another location could cost $160 million, the study states.

If the state elected to sell the 67-acre lot west of downtown, expected profits would reach about $18.1 million, according to the study. The "highest and best use" identified for the area included transit-oriented development, such as multi-family housing, office space and retail businesses.

In its State of Downtown report, Salt Lake City's Downtown Alliance cited a growing need for affordable housing options. Retail sales in Salt Lake County also dropped by almost $100 million in 2013, down 20 percent from the peak in 2007, the report stated.

While development of the site would diversify and bring revenue to the area, the state fair has historically brought cultural value to the city that can't be replaced, according to Justin Jones, vice president of Salt Lake Chamber communications.

"I think there's a great history in its current location, and we're interested in looking at a thriving and vibrant location for the State Fairpark," Jones said.

Jones hopes that partnerships between the state and the city will continue to ensure the success of the state fair and other events.

"As a chamber we're working with the Days of '47 Rodeo to enhance that event as well, and perhaps there's some future opportunities for both the state fair and the rodeo to continue to enhance the culture and history of Utah and to stay connected with that," he said.

CRSA's report will be presented next month to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee, which will make a recommendation to the state Legislature.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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