Rick Frenette loves the fair it's in his blood.
"I grew up in the business," the executive director of the Utah State Fair said.
Frenette said he went to state fairs as a child and worked for the Ohio State Fair and the Minnesota State Fair as an adult. In 2004, he joined the Utah State Fair, and he has worked hard to put a new face on the annual event.
"I think it was a case of coming in with a new set of eyes," he said.
Changing public perception was high on his list of things to do. He said people perceived the fair as an old, worn-out institution that outlived its purpose.
In his first year as executive director, results of a survey Frenette passed out to fair attendees showed they stayed an average of only two hours.
With better carnival rides, better food and better entertainment than was available in past years, people are spending more than three times that long at the Utah State Fairpark.
"Now people are staying six to eight hours," Frenette said.
That is due in part to changes Frenette made to the carnival. The old carnival operator was safe and clean, but it had a difficult time managing big crowds, he said. He found a company that could handle a larger volume of people. It paid off.
"In two years they've doubled our guest count on the midway," he said.
And that translates to money.
In 2005 with the old operator, carnival-ride revenues were $469,341. In 2007 under the new operator, revenues jumped to $751,553.
Frenette also revamped the food service. He said in the past there was one contractor "in a sterile environment" in charge of the food at one location. Now vendors are scattered throughout the fairgrounds, offering a variety of culinary delights.
"We want people to get what they can't get anywhere else," he said, noting the deep-fried peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on a stick shown in TV commercials touting the fair.
Frenette said visitors to the fair get their money's worth.
For less than the price of a movie, people can see agricultural exhibits, home arts, creative arts, fine arts and home canning. They can see a tiger show, a reptile show and fish in a fishing pond. Jugglers will juggle, hypnotists will hypnotize, and magicians will perform their magic. A rodeo and seven major acts at the grandstand also are included.
Frenette, though, doesn't take all the credit for the newly vibrant fair, which he said brings $15 million a year to Utah's economy.The fair's board of directors is instrumental to its success. "You have to put your heart and soul into this, and the board allowed us to do that," he said.
If you go
What: Utah State Fair
Where: Utah State Fairpark, 155 N. 1000 West
When: Today through Sept. 14, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
How much: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and children 6-12, children under 5 free. Opening day admission $2, compliments of Thermwise
Today's events: Samantha Speredon, musical theater, 11 a.m.; Katie McMinn, pop/alternative music, noon;
Josh Eversten and Quickdraw, high octane country, 12:30 p.m.; Harold Newman, variety music, 1:30 p.m.; Short Bus, classic rock, 3 p.m.; Brushfire, bluegrass/Celtic folk, 4:30 p.m.; Rick Ryan, country and rock, 6 p.m.; Clint Lewis, variety music, 7:30 p.m.; Upsidedown, heartland music, 9 p.m.Information: www.utahstatefairpark.com or call 538-FAIR
E-mail: [email protected]