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Indiana State Fair: 'Farm' in the city

9/15/2014

By Linda Van Slyke

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Of all the things that Andy Klotz, Publicity & Media Relations Manager of the Indiana State Fair, can be most proud of (and there are many), he chose the following to highlight:  "80 percent of the visitors to our fair this year said that they learned something about agriculture.  That was music to our ears, especially because we are right in the heart of a large metro area, only ten minutes from downtown Indianapolis."

Agricultural Savvy
According to Wikipedia, Indianapolis is not only the capital of Indiana, but is also "the 12th largest city in the United States."  Its downtown area has "more than 200 retail shops, more than 35 hotels, nearly 300 restaurants and food options, movie theaters, sports venues, museums, art galleries and parks." With the Indiana State Fair on its doorstep, downtown Indianapolis also hosts the largest "farm in the city."

Why is this so important?  Let's just say that urban dwellers are not characteristically known for their agricultural savvy.  By bringing the "farm" to the city, children (and some adults) who have not gotten much closer to corn and milk than their nearest supermarket can therefore develop an appreciation for where these goodies actually originate.

Even celebrities have gotten in on the agricultural action.  Klotz shared a great anecdote about Kix Brooks.  When Brooks & Dunn were performing at the Indiana State Fair, Brooks noticed that donkey races were on the agenda.  Having raised donkeys on his own farm, Brooks was not about to be a mere spectator.

Before you knew it, Brooks was up and running in the donkey race.  Unfortunately, his donkey "buddy" had other plans, and ran Brooks "right into the cement wall of the track."  There were some moments of sheer angst when Brooks "didn't exactly bounce back up again."

However, all's well that ends well.  Brooks made it to the show that night, and repeatedly joked about the donkey caper.  He was especially good natured about the incident, considering that a CBS-affiliate reporter had managed to capture it all on air.

Speaking of Entertainment
Rome has its Coliseum, and as it turns out, so does Indianapolis.  This, in fact, was "The Year of the Coliseum" at the Indianapolis State Fair.  Klotz explained, "Our Coliseum was built in 1939, and it was the venue in Indianapolis for decades."

"People came there for concerts (e.g., the Beatles in 1964), hockey games, parties, ice shows, political conventions, you name it...  A tremendous amount of history took place there, so people have had a real affinity for the Coliseum."

"Nevertheless, the building was not up to modern-day arena standards.  To keep it open was going to take quite a bit of work.  We managed to get the governor and state legislators on board with refurbishing it."

"In September 2012, we closed the Coliseum down to begin a complete overhaul of the building.  Everything was gutted inside, but the four outside walls were preserved.  These outside walls have a landmark art-deco type of design that people recognize and love."

"We sold bonds and will finance those through our own revenue over the next 25 years or so.  The entire project cost $53 million, and the reconstruction took 18 months.   This year's fair was the first chance for the general public to really go through the building."

"The Coliseum now has fabulous lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system.  The draft-horse show was once again held there, and the place was completely packed.  Comedian Jim Gaffigan sold out, and the other concerts and events did real well."

100 Bottles of Beer... 
Another "first" for this year's fair was The Indiana Beer and Wine Exposition.  There's a fabled history to this, too.  (When a fair's been operating since 1852 as this one has, there's a whole lot of history to be had.)

The fair's website explains, "This is the first time since 1946 alcohol has been allowed to be served at the Indiana State Fair.'   Klotz elaborated, "As the story goes, the beer vendors ran out of cups in 1946.  They handed out bottles to people who still wanted to buy beer, and those bottles ended up littering the fairgrounds.  Many people were extremely upset with how littered the fairgrounds were, so the legislature then banned all alcohol sales."

Many were thrilled that 2014 marked the beginning of a new beer-and-wine era at the fair.  Klotz explained that there is now "one controlled enclosed area with a three-drink maximum where  people can go in and enjoy some beer and wine.  This promotes Indiana's craft-beer and wine industries, which are such a big part of our agriculture now.  We had tremendous positive feedback on how these things were set up and run this year."

Banner Year
In fact, 2014 turned out to be an all-around banner year.  The Indianapolis Star reported that there were 954,884 attendees, "making it the third most popular edition [of the fair] in history."

The Indiana Beer and Wine Exposition alone "drew 48,259 visitors."

This is especially commendable in view of the tragedies (1963 Coliseum explosion and 2011 stage collapse) that this fair has suffered through.  Klotz explained that much has been done to insure future safety. 

"We revamped our entire emergency management plan, which has become a standard in the entertainment industry, as well as in the fair industry.  We now have a system in place that disseminates information to all concerned in an extremely timely manner.  During this year alone, we pulled people in to take shelter because of a looming storm."

"We are continually upgrading our fairgrounds.  People have noticed the improvements in general and the high quality of our exhibit areas, which are some of the cleanest you'll find anywhere."

From its agricultural education to its state-of-the-art facilities, the Indiana State Fair is a class act.  Klotz promises, "Although we realize that it gets tough to keep raising the bar year after year, that's exactly what we intend to do." 



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