WRAL.com at the State Fair

Where Do We Grow Now?

Posted October 21, 2007 9:22 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2007 10:55 p.m. EDT

Before the beginning of the State Fair, Steve Troxler and other state officials said they would like to get a million people in attendance. That was not going to happen this year unless almost a quarter-million people stampeded the gates Sunday. As of Saturday, total attendance is 760,178. Attendance will easily break last year and the six-year average, and there's even a chance that the all-time attendance record of 846,724 (set in 2000) will be broken.

Earlier this week, I was sitting in the Grandstand, having a boiled-peanut lunch and thinking about what a State Fair with a million people in it would look like. Then I started thinking about how a million people would fit in the fairgrounds over the course of the fair. It's an interesting exercise.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that 30 percent of attendees come in the first weekend (the first three days), 30 percent come in the last weekend, and 40 percent come during the week. That means if you're aiming for a million attendees then you need 300,000 the first weekend (100,000 a day), 400,000 during the week (80,000 a day), and 300,000 on the last weekend (150,000 a day).

The first problem with this is weekend volume. I was at the fair last year on the second Saturday when there were 145,000 people in attendance. There were places you literally couldn't move. There were walkways where it took half-an-hour to walk a block. It wasn't workable. It was crowded to the point that it was dysfunctional, which means that even if Saturday and Sunday had equal volume (which they wouldn't) you would have massive traffic jams.

There would be two ways to address this: increasing weekday attendance and extending use of the Fairgrounds.

Increasing Weekday Attendance

There's only so far you can increase weekday attendance because there's only so many people who can get off work, out of school, etc. But the fair could offer more incentives. The Dixie Classic Fair (which set is own attendance record for this year) offers an early-bird special -- admission on weekdays between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is $3. There's also a School Day, where students are admitted free until 2 p.m. (1 chaperon per six kids is also admitted free.)

This past Wednesday had the highest attendance in over 10 years and I think that might have had something to do with Paula Deen as well as Military Appreciation Day; moving popular concerts to the weekdays might shift attendance a certain extent. (Especially when you have sellouts as early as we did this year.) Maybe an unlimited ride day on Tuesday or Wednesday?

Extending Fairgrounds Use

There are still a few parts of the Fairgrounds that don't receive a lot of use. Heading west from Heritage Circle (into the Smokey-the-Bear area) you'll find several exhibits but not many people. A few years ago there were several Native American kiosks up there, with food and dancing and crafts, and I went several times. There were never many people there when I went because it wasn't publicized and there was very little sign-age promoting it. You would have to be careful what routes you'd establish into that area (tons of traffic going over the footbridge?) but there's got to be more you can do up there.

What else? There's probably more that can be done up at the top of the hill. Maybe the folk festival tent could be moved to the south side of Dorton Arena -- in the middle of the area it would be accessible from all sides and would not be competing with lots of loud rides.

With the way the Triangle is growing, there's no doubt in my mind that there will be eventually a million people interested in going to the fair. The problem will be getting them all to fit!