The Broward County (Fla.) Fair is back after a four-year absence. Carnival owner Harlan Bast has signed a multiyear deal with the fair board to produce the event at Gulfstream Park, a horse racing facility and casino in Hallandale. The dates are Nov. 16-26, which includes Thanksgiving weekend.
Bast, owner of Hildebrand's Midway of Fun, a Florida carnival, is taking the financial risk to put on the event. He's investing $250,000 to help resurrect the fair that has struggled financially and played multiple venues before going on hiatus in 2013.
Chicago-based Modern Midways will join Bast's operation to provide Broward County's carnival with rides, games and food concessions. Together, they will set up about 60 rides. The two shows have done business together in the past, and other carnivals may book some spectacular pieces, Bast said.
"I made a large guarantee to the facility," he said, without disclosing the figure. "But they gave us a good deal. They couldn't have worked with us any better. I think it was fair for both sides."
As part of the midway operation, Nigel Carley, a veteran concessions manager with the old Murphy Bros. Exposition, Conklin Shows and B&B Amusements, will serve as concessions manager, booking independent food, games and novelties.
The 2012 fair was the last time the event took place, in Pembroke Pines. Over the past 40 years, the fair has bounced around about a half-dozen sites in south Florida, including Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale, in addition to Hallandale, where Strates Shows had the carnival for many years, Bast said.
To promote the fair, Bast has signed deals with I Heart Radio, Clear Channel, Domino's and Pepsi. I Heart Radio has nine local stations to help book local entertainment and promote the fair with live remotes and street teams roaming the region.
Clear Channel's outdoor advertising division expects to publicize the fair on about 50 billboards, including digital signs on Interstates 95 and 595, and the Florida Turnpike.
Other deals are pending with multiple Comcast cable stations and the local NBC affiliate, plus the region's two daily newspapers, the Miami Herald and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. As of early September, no agreements had been signed with those media outlets, Bast said.
All told, he said paid advertising and in-kind trade is valued at about $500,000.
Bast is also working on a deal with Broward County Transit. There is a bus stop at Gulfstream Park that is a large indoor facility and the plan is to offer all bus riders going to the fair a $2 discount off the regular $10 admission price. The dropoff is near Gate 1 by the midway, he said.
The track itself has 4,000 parking spaces, which will be available during the fair with no horse racing scheduled at Gulfstream over the 11-day event. There will also be shuttle buses transporting people from a high-end mall next to the track.
"We're going to promote the hell out of it," he said. "It's been gone for four years now and we don't want a slow start. The fair board has maintained its operation and held meetings. They will handle the 4H and FFA exhibits."
He said, "This is my hometown and I want the fair to be as great as it can be. I've done a lot for other fairs over the course of my career, but nothing for the Broward County kids."
Bob Anz, the longtime president of the Broward County Fair Board, commends Bast for making the effort to get the event up and running again. Four years ago, the fair signed a deal with Bast to revive the fair, but until now, he couldn't find a location. Anz said the fair remains licensed by the state of Florida, which allows the agricultural groups to display their farm animals in a competitive program
"We've tried hard to get a site," he said. "We're the only county in Florida without our own fairgrounds. We've never had one. The county has never given us a piece of property."
"They have parks but there's a rule against having mechanical rides," he said. "But this is the Broward County Fair, it should be on county property. Hallandale is a fair-friendly community."
"We want to get the kids involved again," Anz said. "Harlan is handling the entertainment. We will have a stage on the track but there will be no major talent. These days, there's too much competition with the Hard Rock Cafe and BB&T Center. We're not in position to compete against those venues."
The return to Hallandale comes after the fair had a 20-year run at the track before falling on hard times over the past 10 years as the event hopscotched across Broward County.
About 40 years ago, the very first fair was held at Broward Community College in Davie before moving to Gulfstream Park for the next two decades. In 2006, the track added slot machines and new restaurants and retail shops as part of a $130 million expansion, creating a lot of construction on site, and at some point, the fair had to find a new location, Bast said.
The fair could never gain traction at one location and basically went broke, Bast said. At Gulfstream Park, though, things changed over the past few years with new track ownership in place and the event's return to its most successful venue signals a fresh start for everyone involved.
"We want to go down in history as the ones who saved the fair," Anz said. "People were familiar with this location before we started moving all over the place."