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Offline Sue  
#1 Posted : Thursday, September 20, 2007 8:43:08 AM(UTC)
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Attendance at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, remained on par with last year’s at 1,681,658, but officials expect that a $2 gate increase and increased spending on food, beverage and rides will result in higher revenues.

It wasn’t all good news this year. The fairgrounds was hit with a storm Aug. 23, 12 days before opening, that tore part of the roof off the grandstand and caused damage that Jerry Hammer, general manager, estimated will reach into the seven figures. “We had a one-time, extra special, one-time-only skylight seating over a couple of sections on the west end,” Hammer joked. “It will be replaced in the next month or so. The idea was to get everything cleaned up and structurally sound and OK to use for the fair.”

Much of the grandstand seating is not covered anyway, Hammer noted, and, somewhat ironically, considering both the storm and the heat wave that hit surrounding state fairs during their events, the Minnesota State Fair experienced good weather and no rain during shows. “There we got lucky,” Hammer said. “We had a couple of rainy weekdays, but it wasn’t anything really drastic.”

Even though the attendance figure nearly matched last year’s, exceeding the 2006 number of 1,680,579 by 1,079 patron visits, Hammer did notice a difference in the crowd configurations because of the timing of the rainy weather. “It pushes people around to other days,” he said. “We had a huge Labor Day in ‘06, but this year we had a normal one because the weather leading up to it was nice.”

In addition to damaging the grandstand, the early storm damaged 200-plus trees, many of which will have to be removed, and also damaged and even destroyed some concession stands that were being set up early. “Nobody doubted for second that we would be ready to go,” Hammer said. “We had to clear the trees and immediately had structural engineers doing evaluations. We had tree specialists checking out trees and we had to take out two dozen, and we’ll have to take out more.”

Insurance adjustors also were on the grounds immediately and Hammer does not know how much if any of the financial burden will be for the fair’s for repairs.

The blow was brightened by strong revenue streams that included a 10 percent increase in food and beverage spending at $26.2 million, Hammer said.

Ride revenues on the fair’s independent midway were up by more than 6 percent, to $5.6 million over last year’s $5,264,000, said deputy general manager Jim Sinclair, who attributed the increase mostly to longer visitor stays. “Spending was up while attendance was only up marginally, so our belief is that we’re getting longer stays out of folks,” Sinclair said. “We saw parking revenue flat or down, which means we’re not turning parking lots as often; people are staying longer.”

The collapse of the I-35-W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1 that killed 13 people also might have sparked the desire to attend a fair, Sinclair said. “I think the community was ready for a fair and ready to get out,” he said.

Twenty-six ride companies provided 67 rides for the fair’s independent midway, Sinclair said. The top 10 grossing rides and their owners, in order, included: the Crazy Mouse roller coaster, S.J. Entertainment; the Avalanche roller coaster, Amusements of America; The Fighter, Flight to Mars Inc.; Dragon Wagon, Beverly Stack; World of Wonder Palace of Illusion, Christ-Hall; Giant Gondola Wheel, Wade Shows; Space Roller, Floyd Baxter Amusement Co.; Techo Power, Michael Wood; Arabian Days Fun House, Fun Attractions; and Kite Flyer, Alamo Amusements.

The fair does not do pay-one-price wristband promotions but did offer weekday promotions in the form of reduced tickets required for rides, which generally do not exceed six tickets. Advance ride tickets cost $10 for 20 tickets. At fairtime, patrons could buy 30 tickets for $20 or 50 for $30. Last year, the middle option was 24 tickets for $15, but Sinclair noted that the increase alone could not account for the increased revenues.

Dennis Larson, the fair’s license administration manager whose duties include overseeing the fair’s 350 different food outlets, said combined per caps on food, beverage and beer generally run in the $12-$13 range at the fair, but this year’s will be about $15.50, only partially attributed to price increases. “It looks like people bought more food,” he said. “We had a little bit of cooler weather, which makes a difference in terms of the comfort level of the guests.”

Known for its diverse food choices, fairgoers could find just about anything they wanted on the grounds, from deep-fried candy bars to deep-fried or sauteed alligator, Larson said.

Musical acts performed well in the 13,000-seat, partially skylighted grandstand, Hammer said. Brad Paisley, headlining a show that also featured Jack Ingram, Kellie Pickler and Taylor Swift, sold out with $45 tickets, while the Goo Goo Dolls with Lifehouse and Colbie Caillat was almost a sell-out with $27 tickets.

Other artists, attendance numbers and ticket prices included Fergie with special guest Rooney, 10,500, $52, $42 and $32; “Weird Al” Yankovic, just over 9,000, $22; Allman Brothers Band with Robert Randolph, 7,000, $35; Vince Gill “Friends and Family Tour” featuring Amy Grant and the Del McCoury Band, 4,800, $32; B.B. King Blues Festival featuring Al Green and Etta James, 11,500, $42; “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor, 9,000, $22; MercyMe, 7,800, $32; and Def Leppard with Styx and Foreigner, 10,600, $54.

Also, Fountains of Wayne and The Suicide Commandos packed them in for a free show, but Hammer did not have exact attendance figures for that; and the Minnesota State Fair Amateur Talent Contest Finals also drew well with no charge for patrons.

This year, fair officials exceeded the $2.5 million grandstand budget, for both the acts and production, by a little bit. “We’re glad it’s more because it means we have more ticket sales and we can spend another million on free entertainment,” Hammer said.

Hammer emphasized the free entertainment at the $31-million-budget fair when discussing the $2 admission increase that took the gate from $9 to $11 for ages 13 to 64. Children and senior tickets went to $9 from $8 and the advance discount price went from $7 to $9.

“We had a total of five e-mail complaints, but someone from TV was asking fair visitors what they thought about admission prices and what they said was that they thought it was a good deal,” Hammer said. He has the numbers to back that up, noting that the fair spends $16.41 on each guest when operation and maintenance costs are factored in with the programming.

“The gate ticket doesn’t cover what we spend on each patron,” he said. “The free shows can keep you busy for two or three days without doing the same thing twice, for the price of admission.”

Next year’s dates will be Aug. 21–Sept. 1, the same day the 2008 Republican National Convention begins at the Xcel Energy Center, also in St. Paul. The Democrats also considered St. Paul as a site for their convention, which would have fallen during the fair’s dates, and Hammer noted that he prefers that the events do not coincide.

“One party vs. the other doesn’t make any difference, but it’s logistically much better after the fair than during the fair,” he said, noting that he had gotten a call from a Republican planner who wanted to know if the fair dates could be moved. “What I told her was that, ‘You might want to check with your party, but they can use the fair as a selling point,’” Hammer said. – Mary Wade Burnside
VENUES TODAY enewsletter 9/19/07
User is suspended until 6/1/4749 10:50:28 PM(UTC) Pinetar  
#2 Posted : Thursday, September 20, 2007 4:57:20 PM(UTC)
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good stats coming out of there. always good info to know what was topping the midway+++.
Offline Ryan  
#3 Posted : Thursday, September 20, 2007 10:11:13 PM(UTC)

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I heard that the alpine bobs was the number 11 grossing ride
"If life was fair elvis would be alive and the impersonators would be dead"-carson
User is suspended until 11/13/2287 4:27:29 AM(UTC) Trucker090  
#4 Posted : Thursday, September 20, 2007 10:30:26 PM(UTC)
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Lots of rides and looks like they did well. I wonder when more fairs will go independant!! Thanks for posting Sue!!
<h5>"If you cant run with the BIG dogs stay on the porch"</h5>

Offline JustinJames  
#5 Posted : Friday, September 21, 2007 8:11:03 AM(UTC)
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Originally posted by Ryan

I heard that the alpine bobs was the number 11 grossing ride

I just spit my pepsi all over the computer! HAHA so funny Ryan LOL.
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