Hutchinson — Officials of the Kansas State Fair have reacted cautiously to Gov. Sam Brownback’s suggestion that the annual event start earlier each September to include the Labor Day weekend.
Brownback has promoted the idea since he sat on the fair board while serving as Kansas agriculture secretary, and he repeated it this week in an interview with The Hutchinson News.
The 10-day fair now starts every year on the second Friday of September. Brownback said moving it to include the three-day Labor Day weekend would make the fair “a bigger state celebration” and, he predicted, would increase attendance and revenue.
Brownback noted that this year’s attendance was down 4 percent from last year’s 354,000, which was one of the four highest turnouts since 1978.
Fair manager Denny Stoecklein said Brownback — who took office in January — had mentioned the proposal to him during the summer and again during the fair in September. Stoecklein said the governor offered, if funds allowed, to order a study on whether including Labor Day in the schedule would generate revenue.
But shifting the fair, which marks its 100th year in 2012, isn’t as simple as circling new dates on the calendar, Stoecklein said.
Some states, including Colorado and Minnesota, hold their fairs over Labor Day, and many vendors as well as the carnival work Kansas in between other events on the fair circuit, Stoecklein said.
The fair would also be competing with state parks and other events that attract many Kansans around Labor Day, Stoecklein added. And many school districts routinely use a Wednesday during the fair as an in-service day, sending thousands of students to the fair that day as a field trip, he said.
Fair Board member Brad Rayl said he suggested several years ago that the fair be held in August, before school starts. The idea wasn’t popular, he said; August is typically hotter than September, and it’s also the month for many county 4-H fairs.
Still, Rayl said, the dates aren’t fixed for eternity — in fact, the fair used to be held a little later in September.
“I would be more than happy to look at it in a positive manner,” he said. “But for me to vote ‘let’s do this,’ it would have to have so many positives and just a few negatives.”
A thorough study is critical before any change is made, Rayl concluded.