Officials at State Fair Park are lauding the support of the Oklahoma City’s residents and business community as they approach the culmination of one major project and the commencement of another. When reconstruction of two final exhibition and stall barns is completed next year, it will mark the end of $75 million in expansive equine facility improvements, including upgrades to all nine stall barns and the addition of a new sale barn and cafe.
Up nextA 300,000-square-foot exhibit hall will replace the current Travel & Transportation Building and be built at the current site of the annual carnival beginning with the 2014 season, said Scott Munz, vice president of marketing and public relations for Oklahoma State Fair Inc., which manages the property for the city. Other recent improvements include new exercise and show arenas, a $2 million scoreboard and sound system, new lighting, modernized ventilation systems and increased parking capacity, Munz said. “Over the next couple of months, you’ll be seeing the conclusion of that $75 million equine renovation project and the beginning of the fairgrounds project,” he said. “In fact, they’ve already started on it behind the scenes.” State Fair Park is Oklahoma City’s fairgrounds, and while the annual fair in September is the park’s moneymaker, its expansive facilities play host to a gamut of equine, trade and auto shows throughout the year.
Key eventsU.S. Team Roping championships and the American Quarter Horse Association’s World Show in the fall, and the Oklahoma Youth Expo each spring are among the most significant. State Fair Park attracted 2.2 million people to 183 events last year alone, Munz said. The equine facility improvements were backed by a steep hike in the city’s hotel/motel tax in 2004. Stall space for horses and livestock was nearly doubled to 3,200 in that time, said Bill Allen, vice president for park operations. Allen said expanded, modernized facilities make for happy users but also ensure national and regional organizations will continue to host their trade shows here. Most of the larger associations operate on long-term facility contracts, he said, and the competition is fierce. “You can’t afford to be complacent,” he said. “Everybody’s reloading; everybody’s after us. We’re in the lead, that’s the good news — but there’s competition all the time.” Cheering on the park’s success are hundreds of area businesses that enjoy the traffic associated with its events. Park managers have calculated the attractions translate to $350 million in direct spending impact at these hotels, motels and restaurants. Munz said the park’s 22 annual equine events alone bring inasmuch as $8.3 million in local sales tax dollars. This growth, he said, is why voters approved the 2004 tax in the first place. “They understood the need and benefits of having more tax in this area because of what they would get,” he said.
Affects hotels, motelsMike Carrier, president of Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, agreed. Carrier said the expanded facilities at State Fair Park have had a direct impact on the city’s hotel/motel room count. Since December 2007, the room count in the southwest section of the city, within which the park lies, increased from 5,595 to 6,435. Citywide, there are 2,300 new rooms for rent in that time, Carrier said. “We’ve had over the last few years a couple new shows come in, so that has certainly increased the number of rooms nights we’re generating,” Carrier said. “And several of the other shows — most of the long-running shows, the major shows — we have seen some increases in their attendance. What it’s done is solidify our place in the equine world as being the leader, if you will, in facilities.”
Downtown growthAnd growth at State Fair Park has been complemented by revitalization of the downtown area, including corporate development and the expansion of the convention center, Carrier said. Now it’s the city that State Fair Park officials are praising. The park is set to receive $60 million for its part in the MAPS 3 election in 2009, which will be spent on the new exhibit hall, Allen said. That project is scheduled to be complete by 2015. “Everybody’s aware of Oklahoma City, what’s happened and what’s going on,” he said. “And it’s not just the state fair — it’s the whole package.”
To learn moreFor more information about State Fair Park, go to okstatefair.com or call 948-6704.