Another New York State Fair is in the record books thanks to strong attendance, and that has acting fair director Troy Waffner reflecting on how things went, and how to pull off the same feat again next year. He says he and his team have been working hard to find ways from big to small, mundane to outrageous to make the fair fun and cool to spend more than just a day.
"We're seeing more and more people coming for multiple days. Some of that is...we're making it cheap for people to get in. Some people think we're insane. Once people are on the grounds, they spend money. If it costs them $1 or $3 to get in, they spend $50 on food, drink, merchandise, or midway rides. That helps drive the biggest part of our revenue, whether it's licensing fees, the vendors, midway revenue.”
Growing the fair and its impact is one priority, and Waffner says adding a 13th day is one of the few ways to build on capacity.
“We can put 120,000, 125,000 people on the fairgrounds every day. But at some point if you're going grow the fair, you have to start adding days.”
He says New York’s State Fair is one of the biggest with the shortest run. When the fairgrounds began its physical transformation two years ago, some vendors were frustrated with different locations and low volume. Waffner says they took those concerns seriously, while continuing to build out the grounds.
“We fully programmed the west end of the fairgrounds. We put big acts down there. Then you had the skyride, too, which was drawing a significant number of people to the west end of the fairgrounds. We opened up more parking in the gray lot, which is on the west end of the fairgrounds. There isn't a vendor out there who couldn't argue there was significantly more traffic on Iroquois Street and Broadway, which run parallel to each other, than there had been the previous year.”
Waffner says they also continue to find ways to improve and expand parking. He says they never had to close a lot this year, and strongly urged fairgoers to utilize park and ride services. Waffner says a makeover is in store for the upper Orange lot.
"Our biggest lot will be paved, it'll have drainage, it'll have striping, it'll have lights, it'll have automated tolling, and it'll have an on ramp to 690 westbound by next year's fair. It'll also increase the real parking up there to 7,500 spots."
Waffner says heavy rains would reduce the capacity by up to 3,500 spots due to poor drainage.
The fairgrounds will see yet another addition by next august…a 133,000 square foot expo center, which Waffner says should help to significantly expand the fair’s already strong off-season business.
"We're not going to compete with SRC Arena or the OnCenter. Those, for lack of a better word, are "dainty" facilities. We're a "dirty" facility. We're going to bring in industrial shows, car shows, truck shows, motocross. We love it, we have the parking and facilities, and that's what we'll be going after."
He says it’s all toward the goal of making the fairgrounds a year-round economic engine that puts people in hotels and restaurants.