Lawmakers pledge to fight for State Fair

Sen. Tom Hansen said he isn't surprised by Gov. Mike Rounds' proposal to cut $773,643 from the State Fair's budget, but he's confident a compromise will be made that will keep the fair alive in 2009.

Huron's event isn't only fair with funding issues, as Sioux Empire Fair falls into debt
Laura Wehde/Republic A view of the South Dakota State Fair rides, from atop the Ferris wheel, is shown here.

Sen. Tom Hansen said he isn't surprised by Gov. Mike Rounds' proposal to cut $773,643 from the State Fair's budget, but he's confident a compromise will be made that will keep the fair alive in 2009.

"The worst thing that we can do is overreact," Hansen told The Daily Republic. "I have every confidence that we'll go forward."

Rounds' proposal to eliminate state support for the fair came during his budget proposal Thursday, but neither Hansen, R-Huron, nor Rep. Quinten Burg, D-Wessington Springs, are ready to pronounce the fair funding dead.

"That's one I'm really going to have to work on, but the game isn't over yet," Burg said after Rounds' address on Thursday.

Some 130 miles away, in extreme southeast South Dakota another fair has its own financial dilemma. In Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County commissioners are questioning the future funding of the Sioux Empire Fair, a competitor for the attention of late-summer fair enthusiasts.


That fair ended last year with a $145,000 debt, prompting some commission members to wonder if funding should continue.

Ironically, it was the popularity and financial standing of the Sioux Empire Fair that prompted Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, to suggest in 2004 that the state should do away with the State Fair.

At that time, the State Fair was struggling financially and Adelstein said that the Sioux Empire Fair and the Central States Fair in Rapid City were self-supporting and could take turns, in alternating years, serving as the State Fair.

It created a controversy in central South Dakota, one that died down when the Legislature promised financial help to the State Fair. In the years since, and after several changes, the fair's financial situation has improved.

In 2008, gate attendance was up 4 percent from 2007 and revenues were up 6 percent. Grandstand ticket sales in 2008 climbed by 32 percent and grandstand revenues rose 53 percent.

While the 2009 Sioux Empire Fair is not in jeopardy, The Associated Press recently reported that commissioners were considering canceling the 2010 fair to save money.

The Sioux Empire Fair Association has taken out a short-term $50,000 loan and used $65,000 on a revolving credit line. At the same time, the State Fair is enjoying an increase in revenue and gate attendance in 2008. But it has been aided by regular funding in recent years from the state Legislature.

Thursday, Rounds proposed doing away with that state aid.


Despite the Sioux Empire Fair's financial troubles, Janet Lehman, executive secretary of the South Dakota Association of Fairs and Celebrations, said she doesn't believe the Sioux Empire Fair's situation will become dire enough cause the event's cancellation.

"I don't think the Sioux Empire Fair is going to go away," Lehman said.

In Huron, Mayor David McGirr empathized with the Sioux Empire Fair's financial concerns.

"Running any fair is a tough business, county or state," McGirr said. "I would compare it to a state park or a museum. They usually don't take in enough revenue to cover all of their expenses, but (it's) a quality-of-life item that's important to the public."

If the Sioux Empire Fair is discontinued, McGirr does not believe its absence would have much of an effect on Huron's State Fair, since they're in different regions of South Dakota.

While the State Fair focuses on agriculture, the Sioux Empire Fair has more of urban concentration, he said.

"I don't think they cross that much," McGirr said.

Thomas Harmon, a member of the State Fair Commission, said he believes the Sioux Empire Fair's problems are temporary and doesn't expect to see that Sioux Falls tradition disappearing any time soon.


"They've been around a long time," Harmon, of Pierre, said. "I imagine they'll survive.

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