Utah taxpayers will get a chance to see about $3 million of their tax dollars at work, beginning this week, as a spruced-up version of the 1988 Utah State Fair makes its debut.
The event, which in past years has drawn 400,000 people - one-quarter of the state's population - is the best annual representation of Utah's rich agricultural and industrial heritage.The fact that the Legislature appropriated $3 million for fairgrounds improvements during extremely lean budget times last spring attests to the importance Utahns ascribe to the fair and its long-time home on west North Temple. As the Deseret News pointed out earlier this year, unless something is done to save the fairgrounds, the historic site will crumble and become harder to rescue.
Suggestions have been made in recent years that the fair be moved to a site associated with the Salt Palace. That possibility is part of a study currently being done on a proposed expansion of the Salt Palace complex.
But that idea remains a long way off and the fairgrounds needed help now. The refurbishing, even though it fell short of the $12 million that fair officials said was needed, seems to indicate at least a partial commitment by the Legislature to the existing site.
Much of the credit for the $3 million appropriation goes to Fair Director Jackie Nokes, who took the helm last year and, despite tremendous odds, came away from Capitol Hill with much-needed money to begin a face lift for the fairgrounds.
Earlier in this decade, restoration and remodeling estimates had a figurative wrecking ball hanging over the old Exhibit Building No. 1. Built near the turn of the century, the once-grand hall housed dances and symphony concerts before it housed soldiers during World War II.
Dubbed "the Pigeon Hilton" by Nokes after she saw the 60,000 square feet of floor space covered with droppings and feathers, it was condemned in 1985 and the State Board of Expositions petitioned to have it razed.
But the building, one of 27 at the fairgrounds to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now being renovated and is scheduled to open next year. New indoor and outdoor lighting will spotlight freshly-painted buildings, where the number of entries is expected to surpass past years in many categories.
Even as Utah sets its economic development sites on the ever-expanding high-tech manufacturing market, the fair is a much-needed annual reminder that basic agriculture and industry erected the framework on which future generations will build.