The North Dakota State Fair Association is currently in a fight with the Ward County Historical Society over land currently being used to display historic buildings from the region. The NDSFA wants that land, but the Ward County Historical Society, which saw damage to their buildings from the 2011 flooding, doesn’t have the resources available to move their buildings.
But what caught my eye in the battle is the reason why the NDSFA wants that land. After building a new grandstand (costing state taxpayers over $15 million) the NDSFA wants to build a new convention center:
Gary Knell, Hazen, chairman of the State Fair Board, said the land probably is worth $1 million. The State Fair Association’s master plan for the fairgrounds is to eventually build a new convention center in that location that would be attached to the State Fair Center. Knell said the fair board is in a difficult position because it has been directed by the State Fair Association general membership to begin negotiations with the historical society to relocate Pioneer Village. State Fair Manager Renae Korslien said no firm plans have been drawn up for such a convention center, no approval has yet been given and no money is yet available. Knell said the master plan calls for it to be put in place in under five years.
No doubt state and local taxpayers will be asked to put up funds for this new convention center. Certainly the NDSFA couldn’t pay for it out of their proceeds. According to financial statements I obtained through an open records request (see below) the North Dakota State Fair has been hemorrhaging money for nearly a decade and a half.
Here’s a chart of the losses (note that there was no fair in 2011 due to flooding, so those losses might be excused):
The grim reality is that the State Fair has lost money every single year since 1999. And this despite a 47% increase in attendance since 1999:
Admissions have gone up in cost too:
Adult Season Gate Pass $20
Advanced Adult Daily Gate $5
Adult Daily Gate $6
Adult Season Gate Pass $25
Adult Daily Gate $8
Without a consistent infusion of millions of tax dollars, mostly from Ward County and the City of Minot but some from the state as well, the North Dakota State Fair would have ceased to exist long ago. And anyone who has ever attended the state fair knows it’s far from cheap. It’s extremely expensive for a family to attend, plus we subsidize the enterprise to boot.
Before the drum beat starts for yet another expansion on the state fair grounds, perhaps it’s time to ask why this enterprise can’t operate in the black and pay for its own facilities.