Task force studies Ohio State Fair’s future

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People and amusement rides at a fair.
The Ohio State Fair in 2016. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

Between now and December, the Expo 2050 Task Force will be working with consultants to map out long-term recommendations for the Ohio State Fair and the Ohio Expo Center.

Michael Curtin, who is a member of the Ohio Expositions Commission and co-chairman of the Expo 2050 Task Force, outlined the efforts of the task force during a Zoom meeting of the commission March 17.

The 20-member Expo 2050 Task Force was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine in June of 2019 to make recommendations on improving the state fair and the use of the 360-acre fairgrounds. The group began meeting, looking over the grounds and talking with organizations that use the fairgrounds.

But members soon realized the job was bigger than the group could manage alone, Curtin said. “Then the pandemic hit, and like so many things, we went into a stall.”

As the pandemic eased this winter, the task force resumed its work and coordinated with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to seek out proposals for planning services. They interviewed firms on Feb. 22 and hired the architecture and design firm, Wellogy.

Approval of the $500,000 contract is on the agenda for approval by the Ohio Controlling Board on April 4, Curtin said, with work beginning in April.

Throughout the remainder of 2022, Wellogy will be evaluating the facilities and interviewing those who are involved with the fair or use the grounds. According to the project outline from the OFCC, “this study will define the ideal Ohio State Fair, absent any site conditions, then review how the ideal Ohio State Fair can be accommodated at its current site while showing how the entire existing site can be optimized to best serve all Ohioans all year round.”

Wellogy’s research will be concluded by the end of the year and by early next year, the task force, Ohio Expo Commission, governor and legislature will have Wellogy’s recommendations, Curtin said.

Proposals to move the State Fair away from its current location in Columbus will not be included in Wellogy’s research.

“That’s not part of the scope of this work,” Curtin said.

Farm groups

Adam Sharp, executive vice president for the Ohio Farm Bureau, spoke during the Ohio Expo Commission meeting, representing a coalition of nine Ohio agriculture organizations.

In February, that coalition issued its own set of recommendations for the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair. Those recommendations are available online at https://ofbf.org/app/uploads/2022/02/CRT-Expo-Recommendations-Final.pdf.

One of the coalition’s recommendations is to keep the state fair at its current location, Sharp said.

Various groups have suggested moving the state fair to a new location and making the real estate available for other purposes.

“We don’t think any of these proposals to move the fair make sense at this time,” Sharp said.

Another recommendation from the coalition is to avoid any further erosion of the Expo Center land base.

“Don’t shrink the footprint anymore,” Sharp said.

In January of 2021, the Ohio Expo Commission voted to lease more than 25 acres of land in the north parking lot area to Confluence Community Authority for development as a training facility for the Columbus Crew.

The City of Columbus has also proposed leasing an additional 17 acres to develop a sports park with indoor and outdoor athletic facilities.

The coalition of ag groups recommends infrastructure improvements to upgrade the facilities at the Expo Center as well, Sharp said. The ag groups have shared recommendations with members of the state legislature to help make them aware of the need for funding in the state budget, he added.

New comment policy

Meetings of the Ohio Expositions Commission are public, but the commission has not had an official policy in the past to hear comments from the public.

During the meeting March 17, the commission voted to set aside 15 minutes at the beginning of each meeting for public comments. Each person will be limited to three minutes and anyone who wants to speak at a meeting must provide advance notice to the commission by emailing Alicia Shoults, assistant general manager for the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair, 24 hours in advance of a meeting at A.Shoults@expo.ohio.gov.

According to the policy, any comments must pertain to the business of the commission. The comment period is not intended for questions or discussion, but rather to hear input from the public. The new public comment policy will go into effect at the next commission meeting, which will be held in-person on May 12.

Fair plans underway

In addition to reviewing long-term plans, Expo Commission members and staff reported on plans for the 2022 Ohio State Fair, which will return to full operation after two years of limited activities due to COVID. It is scheduled to run from July 27 through August 7.

Shoults reported that entertainment acts have been booked for the fair and pre-sale concert ticket sales are strong.

“We’re really in a very good place,” she said.

One change fairgoers might notice is a shift in the layout for the Lausche Building, said Alissa Belna-Muhlenkamp, special events director for the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair.

The 4-H competitions will be moved from the north end to the south end, providing a quieter area for project judging. Belna-Muhlenkamp also reported that the state fair band and choir will be returning, although each group will have about 150 members, rather than 200 as in the past.

Other changes include the addition of two new information booths, a new mobile app with GPS capability and daily schedules, and new seating areas and misting stations around the grounds.

A new “Little Farmers” exhibit with activities geared toward children ages 3 to 10 will be located on the lawn of the Voinovich Center.

A farmers market with Ohio vendors will also be added near the Voinovich Center.

Kroger will no longer offer advance sale tickets for the fair. Advance tickets will be available at O’Reilly Auto Parts and Ticketmaster.

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