2018-08-08 / News

Eastern Michigan State Fair revenue jumps 10 pecent

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

IMLAY CITY — Since the turn of the century, the Eastern Michigan State Fair has seen its revenue triple, and dodging the rain this year the fair saw its gate receipts increase 10.3 percent over last year’s fair.

“We had 10,000 paid admissions on Saturday alone this year,” said Fair Manager Ian Kempf.

It’s a far cry from when Kempf took over management of the fair in 1998. The fair was $300,000 in debt, a mere 9,000 people had attended the event and the fair board was considering selling off the fairgrounds. The fair was so broke, he recalled, “We couldn’t get toilet paper on credit for a tractor pull.”

This year, about half the population of Lapeer County poured through the gates during the five-day fair. Kempf said the gross gate receipts topped $500,000.

But, said Kempf, keeping the 135-year-old fair going is no easy thing. On top of the fair’s annual operating budget of $750,000, the Lapeer County Agricultural Society built a $300,000 barn for the Future Farmers of America this year.

Sometime this year or next, depending on what the fair board decides, the fair will be taking down the orange building that currently serves as the fair’s office and moving into the 30-by-100-foot red building now marked “Lego Barn.”

To make that move, Kempf said, the Lego Barn will be stripped down to its poles and rafters and be rebuilt.

He said the fair’s current office is “pushing 60 years old,” and was originally used as the beer tent and PX at the fair. “The money room used to be the cooler where they kept the beer kegs,” he said.

Kempf said he wants to take down the old building to free up valuable real estate in front of the Walker Barn. He envisions the 140-by-300 space transformed into two blocks crisscrossed with pathways with a tower equipped with sound and light equipment in the center of each block.

He added moving the fair offices into the Lego Barn will allow the fair to create a more usable office space. Since the building is on the edge of the fairgrounds, it will allow people to come into the offices without going through the ticket gate. He added plans also call for a public meeting room.

Kempf attributed the fair’s growth to “a fairly simple philosophy.” He said people want three things at a fair. He said they want to feel safe, they want a clean environment and they want a perceived value.

“We work incredibly hard to keep the fair clean,” he said, noting the fair spent $10,000 this year alone on new trash receptacles.

He said that while fair revenue has increased from $200,000 in 1999 to $600,000 last year, the fair board has sunk thousands of dollars back into the 48-acre facility. He said thousands have been spent on things like all new electrical and water lines that people never notice, but make the fair a better experience.

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