The all-important Wyoming State Fair released it’s new master plan a week ago, and we’ve been pouring over it trying to decipher real possibilities from pipe dreams. Master plans, especially government-funded ones, tend to ignore the real costs of doing a project – like the political realities of who has to pay for it – because the assumption is the government will somehow cough up the money to do whatever it is.
So at first glance, the $51 million price tag over 10 years to do what is recommended seems like another study-gone-wrong government exercise. But digging deeper, we saw some really valuable – and realistic – thoughts behind the shiny new this or that. Not only was the focus of the plan much more on “what do we need to make the fairgrounds more enticing and usable year-round,” but it tried to pinpoint areas where the market is dictating possible revenue opportunities.
Yes, that sounds a little too government-ease. But what it means is this: If this or that industry (such as equine uses or RV groups) are willing to pay for use of a facility, then making the place work for them will help bring them in and generate income. Then market to them so they know you exist. It’s simple business.
Granted, the last State Fair master plan in 2002 had a similar mission, and to a degree, it accomplished what it set out to do. New buildings, nicer grounds, cleaner facilities and more were a great first step. Then, the fair stumbled for a whole host of political, financial and government bureaucratic reasons. So much so that the end result was not increased revenue for fairgrounds usage but stagnant or falling attendance at the main event, the State Fair itself.
We cannot afford to stumble with the current master plan, and all signs are those in charge are forging ahead with no intention of tripping over those political rocks or getting all tangled up in that government red tape.
What’s different this time around?
Well, three specific things and numerous intangible ones intertwined. First, there’s a whole new feel and attitude at the upper echelons in the State Fair office. Director Courtny Conkle brings a fresh, youthful exuberance that is infectious, and she is driven to accomplish what she wants to get done. She wants to get this done.
The new and more independent Wyoming State Fair Board provides a great way to avoid red tape and glacially slow government decision-making. They have a vision, and they can push it with a singular focus that someone running an entire state agency cannot.
The third tangible piece is the ability and desire of most involved in the management of the fairgrounds to look outside the box. Take, for instance, the idea of having a private developer build a hotel on WSF property. That public-private partnership, while nothing new to governments across the country, would have been nearly unthinkable even a few years ago here.
Outside forces, including the “sky is falling” cries of some looming financial cliff for state government, could be stumbling blocks to ever seeing the full potential of the fairgrounds.
But, Conkle, the fair board and city/county leaders have already proven their willingness to do the hard work to make things happen. Let’s help them not stumble because we need the fair and fairgrounds operations year-round to be strong.