SALT LAKE CITY — The revamped Utah State Fairpark is turning a profit, in part due to a new outdoor rodeo arena built with $13 million in taxpayer money.
But its success comes with growing pains that require about $1 million in upgrades and repairs following hasty construction of the stadium.
The issues range from a gap in security that allows fairgoers to wander up to the arena's east side; flooded parking spots; dust migrating into homes; and birds pooping on spectators.
Beer vendors' caps on Fairpark commission also are pushing the park toward buying its own liquor license, even "as much as we don’t want to be in the business," said Larry Mullenax, the Fairpark's executive director.
"We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re turning in a good year" with a net income up to about $1 million, from roughly $400,000 the year before, Mullenax told the State Fairpark Committee on Monday at the Capitol.
Fairpark officials are seeking a base budget of $675,000 from the Utah Legislature next year, separate from the $1.1 million in needed repairs.
The price tag for the upgrades is higher than the roughly $760,000 park officials predicted in July because safety concerns later came to light, Mullenax said. He and his colleagues are still hashing out exactly how much help they'll seek from the Legislature for the fixes.
Needed repairs include closing a gap in security on the east side of the stadium that could allow a child or someone else to sneak right up to the arena. Fairpark officials also want to move ticket booths farther from road traffic.
The venue's dirt floor has caused headaches, too.
“Every time the wind blows, we blow dust into the neighborhood. And we get calls from the neighborhood," Mullenax said.
In the height of summer, teams sprayed 75,000 gallons of water on the dirt to keep the dust at bay. But the approach only worked for four hours at a time.
Poor ventilation also cooked restroom door handles to searing temperatures. Announcers, without an awning over their booth, squinted at the field until a temporary cover went up.
And pigeons presented other issues.
“We’ve always had a bit of a bird problem at the Fairpark, but now we’ve built them a condominium, and they’re inviting their friends,” Mullenax said. "You’ve got the fecal matter falling on your guests, which is a problem."
His wish list submitted to the panel includes a $15,000 net to shield patrons.
Still, Days of '47 Rodeo Chairman Kem Gardner told the panel that "all in all, it's a fabulous arena" that hosted a sold-out crowd during two days of the rodeo in July.
After years of sluggish returns, Mullenax said he believes the Fairpark, with its new arena, can keep the momentum, attracting singers, bands, tournaments and equestrian shows that will net $6 million to $7 million in revenue in coming years.
House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, urged Mullenax to work with the Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment Group and other companies to bring events to the new stadium.
As for the repairs, Wilson said the "$1.1 million is a pretty good investment if we’re going to wear that thing out."7 comments on this story
Construction crews built the 10,000-seat arena in roughly eight months, just in time for it to become the new home of the Days of '47 Rodeo on July 24. The Legislature set aside $10 million for its construction, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contributed $3 million, and Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County pitched in another $3 million.
Panel members Wednesday also signaled their intention to abandon a prior proposal to reconstruct the state Department of Agriculture building on the fairgrounds, saying the building would eat up valuable space that could otherwise bring in revenue from events.