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State Fair will skip a year of big concerts

Says downtown shows ‘didn’t work’

INDIANAPOLIS –The Indiana State Fair has canceled paid concerts at next year’s fair because shows moved to downtown Indianapolis after a deadly 2011 stage rigging collapse failed to attract big crowds during August’s fair, officials said Thursday.

A financial report on this year’s fair showed that revenue from fair events that included those concerts was just 40 percent of what officials had expected, totaling only about $1.1 million.

The report showed the fair made an overall profit of more than $505,000.

State Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy said the downtown concerts at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, which included shows by Barry Manilow, Journey and Pat Benatar, “didn’t work” and won’t be repeated next year.

“We just didn’t get anything out of that hardly,” he said.

Paid concerts were moved from the fairgrounds to the downtown arena after high winds toppled stage rigging on Aug. 13, 2011, killing seven people and injuring dozens before an outdoor concert by country duo Sugarland.

State Fair Director Cindy Hoye said the 2013 fair will still have some “B-level named entertainment” on the fairgrounds’ free stage. But she said the lesson from this year’s low ticket sales at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse is that fair visitors want their concerts at the fairgrounds.

“Our customers want to be here. They didn’t understand the whole idea, it didn’t work, and so we’re bringing back some headline entertainment for free on the free stage.”

The fairgrounds’ Coliseum complex is undergoing a $63 million renovation and expansion and is scheduled to reopen in time to begin hosting paid concerts at the 2014 State Fair.

Until last year’s stage collapse, the fairgrounds’ outdoor grandstands had hosted most paid concerts.

A fair income statement released Thursday showed August’s 17-day fair had total earned revenue of $10.4 million and a profit of $505,526.

Hoye said she still considered the fair a financial success even though the actual profit came in $95,556 below the fair’s projected $601,081 profit.

“We’re not a for-profit entity, we’re a quasi-governmental entity that’s here to showcase agriculture, kids and education. So it’s never really about making that much profit. It’s to cover our expenses, have a little bit that we can put into our capital as we go along,” she said.

This year’s State Fair earned revenue was up about $2 million from 2011’s $8.38 million in revenue. Last year’s revenue had fallen from 2010’s $11.9 million after fair officials closed the fair for a day and canceled several big concerts after the stage collapse.

Fair officials had raised ticket prices and added a new parking fee to try to make up last year’s losses.

This year’s fair had an attendance of 853,941, below the anticipated attendance of 875,000. Fair officials attributed that in part to weather that included 95-degree days and rain.

Hoye said State Fair officials have formed a committee that will include county fair officials to look into solutions from another apparent source of the attendance decline: Indiana public schools this year started classes earlier in August.

She said the State Fair can’t pick any date it wants for the annual event because it must take into consideration the schedules of county fairs, which are feeder systems into the State Fair.