Hutchinson Sen. Ed Berger asked Kansas State Fair Board members a single question Friday that spurred a 30-minute discussion on the needs of the fairgrounds.

How would the development of a $160 million American Royal complex in Kansas City, Kansas, affect Hutchinson’s state fair?

It was obviously a question fair board members have been mulling.

“Will they be cherry-picking our shows and moving them to the Royal?” Fair Board President Virginia Crossland Macha asked.

Board member Ron Hinrichsen, of Westmoreland, who has taken his Angus to the Royal and is involved in the show, said the current location of the complex, in Missouri, is getting dilapidated. It’s location also isn’t adequate for participants.

He said he sees the bigger livestock shows gravitating to the new Royal complex when it is completed.
“But the small shows will still be here because it is going to be cost-prohibitive to turn the lights on there for them,” he said.
Board member Harmon Bliss, of Jetmore, did note that the fair’s first weekend had a record number of 4-H and FFA youth participating. Those livestock shows continue to grow every year.

The American Royal will move to a site immediately northwest of Kansas Speedway in the Village West retail and entertainment district.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s office said last year that Kansas sales tax revenue, or STAR bonds, is the primary economic development tool for the project.
Brownback’s press office had said the state would invest up to $80 million in STAR bonds over a 20-year bond term.
STAR bonds were first used in Wyandotte County in 1998 for the Kansas Speedway.

Fair Manager Susan Sankey said the fair has several projects it would like to do, including a master plan that would renovate some of the buildings not completed during a $29 million renovation approved by the Legislature in 2001. Among the buildings is the old Bison Arena, which has roof problems and has been targeted by the Kansas fire marshall, and the indoor horse and show arena - the Expo Center -- which is more than 50 years old.

She also said the fair has more than 600 nonfair events during the year that use those buildings. Some are livestock shows. Some are weddings, flea markets and other events.

The Expo Center is one of the fair's most-used buildings in the offseason, officials have said.

However, requests to lawmakers in the past haven’t been considered. And STAR bonds aren’t an option for the state fair, Sankey said.
Moreover, the fair is a fee-funded agency but sets a budget every year. State officials, by statute, are supposed to match what the fair puts into a capital improvement fund - up to $300,000 - each year to help with building upkeep and improvements. However, those transfers haven’t been made regularly, or on occasion, adequately, for several years - leaving the fair in a nearly $2 million shortfall in that account, Sankey said.
Sankey added when the statute was set years ago, “$300,000 went a lot farther than it does now.”

Berger said to keep him informed on what is happening so he could advocate for the fair and the economic impact it brings the region. He also said a western Kansas lawmaker is looking at introducing a bill that would tweak a new ride law. It would be aimed at helping the small, county-operated carnivals. The state fair’s Ye Old Mill, giant slide, boat rides and the train would fall into this category.

After Berger left, fair board members discussed a fair survey aimed at pinpointing the economic development the fair brings to town, as well as how to better engage fairgoers.

The board noted that there are areas of Kansas not coming to the fair, from rural western Kansas to Johnson County.

“If we really want to get people from Rooks or Graham counties or Johnson and Leavenworth, maybe we should ask 'What do you want to see, what is it that will draw you here?' ” asked board member Steve Abrams of Arkansas City.