SALT LAKE CITY — Balmy late summer weather and an excited public combined this year to help produce a successful 2014 Utah State Fair, which made about $800,000 in profit.
The rosy bottom line is in stark contrast to the 2013 event, which barely made money and required a supplemental infusion of cash by lawmakers to keep the annual tradition afloat.
A preliminary report card on the 2014 season was delivered Wednesday to lawmakers on the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, who also received an update on new plans for the fair, including a deal in the works for a soccer stadium that would help transform the facility into a more profitable year-round venture.
Michael Steele, executive director of the Utah State Fairpark, said a minor league soccer stadium that would house professional women's soccer would be a $20 million anchor tenant for the Fairpark. Such an addition by Real Salt Lake would help the organization tap into underserved populations in the soccer community, including minorities, women and low-income Utahns.
This year's fair drew more than 300,000 people and generated $2.9 million in gross revenues, according to Steele. Expenses clocked in at $2.1 million, leaving profit for the organization to work with in the coming year, he added.
The fair has struggled with five years of declining attendance and made a dismal $47,000 last year in a run marked by persistent rainy weather.
Lawmakers gave the fair an extra $1.3 million last year so it could continue to operate, and three condemned agricultural barns received a $2.5 million facelift so they could showcase the best examples in Utah's livestock in 2014.
Josh Haines, head of the state arm that oversees maintenance and construction needs in Utah's inventory of government buildings, said attention now needs to be focused on improving the infrastructure at the Fairpark.
Topography, aging drainage systems and benign neglect contribute to annual problems with flooding that demands attention. Haines estimated the fix at $6 million.
A consultant's study has identified a number of potential new uses for the sprawling Fairpark — uses that could replace the fair's celebration of a 112-year tradition of farming and ranching now juxtaposed against the urban Wasatch Front.
A majority of Utah residents surveyed in polls want the state fair to stay put at its current location, but that fate remains uncertain.
Haines said agriculture remains key to the fair's success.
"It is not about the carnival," he said. "It is about the agricultural communities."
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