Tom Smart, Deseret News
Fairway at the Fairpark on opening day at the Utah State Fair Thursday in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — To many Utahns, Clark Caras says, the Utah State Fairpark is a lot like "Brigadoon," the Broadway musical about a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every 100 years.

"It appears out of the mist every September, it's here for 11 days and then everybody thinks it disappears," said Caras, the Fairpark's executive director.

But that really isn't true, he said.

Eleven days a year, the Fairpark attracts nearly 300,000 visitors though its gates for the Utah State Fair. Another 300,000 visit the 65 acre campus on the west side of Salt Lake City throughout the rest of the year.

The problem, Caras said, is "the community doesn't know that it happens."

Though the Fairpark stays busy for the most part, it isn't attracting they type of crowds — and generating the level of economic development — that state officials believe it can.

A planning process is under way to determine best uses for the Fairpark those 354 days a year when the fair isn't in session. Over the next 120 days, consultants will be working to put together a list of possible uses and analyze which would work best at the Fairpark.

"We need to get away from just the fair-time usage of this park," said Charlie Smith, principal with Populous, a Knoxville, Ky.-based design firm hired by the Utah State Fair Corp. Board of Directors to conduct the analysis. "We're looking for multiple uses."

Smith, whose firm has worked on more than 250 fairgrounds projects around the globe, said industry officials no longer use the term "fairgrounds" to describe facilities like the Fairpark.

"Fairgrounds make you think of a seven-day or 10-day facility," he said during an open house at the Fairpark on Monday night. "We like to call them exposition parks. Exposition means year-round usage of all those facilities."

One of the exposition parks Populous worked on in Louisville, Ky., hosts more than 2,000 events per year, Smith said.

The Fairpark has that kind of potential, he said, because of its size, location and proximity to supporting facilities such as hotels and restaurants.

The Utah State Fairpark is hoping to time its makeover with the opening of the light-rail line connecting downtown with Salt Lake City International Airport, as well as North Temple's transformation into a grand boulevard.

That six-mile TRAX line is slated to include a station near the Fairpark at 1100 West. Construction of the TRAX line is under way and expected to be complete by 2013.

Right now, the Fairpark doesn't look too inviting from the site of the TRAX line, Caras said. The barns lining the street can be "foreboding" to people in the community, he said, and they're regularly vandalized.

"We want that to look different and be different," Caras said. "When they open that TRAX line, we want people to look and say, 'Oh, my word. There's something different going on at the Fairpark.'"

Kevin Rogers, a third-generation resident of Rose Park, said he'd rather see the space used as a year-round destination, like Thanksgiving Point in Lehi or Gardner Village in West Jordan.

"Our biggest concern is we just don't want it to be dead space (most of the year)," Rogers said during Monday's open house.

Whatever happens at the Fairpark, it will include the annual fair. In 2010, the Legislature extended the lease between Utah State Fair Corp. and the Fairpark through 2060.

The Fairpark also has been tasked by the Legislature since 1995 to become self-sufficient. Thus far, that hasn't happened.

"We want to keep that promise," Caras said.

Though the fair regularly finishes well in the black, the state covers 40 percent of the cost of maintaining the historic buildings and infrastructure. This year, Caras said, that amounts to about $680,000.

E-mail: [email protected]