As construction of a $62 million expo center begins at the New York State Fairgrounds, State Fair Director Troy Waffner said the facility is already generating interest from various events and promoters.
The 136,450-square-foot venue, which is scheduled to open prior to the 2018 state fair, could host car shows, equestrian events and sports tournaments. The facility will have 110,000 square feet of programming space capable of holding up to 500 booths that are 10 feet long and 10 feet wide. For events that require seating, there will be 4,000 retractable seats available.
The price tag to build the 136,450-square-foot New York State Fair Expo Center is larger tha…
Other amenities include year-round restrooms, a concession stand, conference rooms, a catering area and an outdoor balcony offering a view of the fairgrounds.
The expo center will run parallel to the sheep and goat barns, according to Waffner. It will be positioned between the barns and the midway along Broadway, one of the main streets on the fairgrounds.
When it's completed, the building will be about 500 feet long and 250 feet wide.
Waffner and other state officials view the expo center as an important piece to boosting the number of nonfair events at the fairgrounds in Onondaga County. The year-round business at the fair has been growing, but the expo center could attract bigger events to central New York.
"It certainly generated a lot of interest," Waffner said of the center. "We've been talking to promoters and show owners for the nonfair events ... We hope to have something announced before the building is finished."
One concern Waffner has heard is that the expo center will compete with existing facilities in central New York, such as the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse or the SRC Arena on the campus of Onondaga Community College.
But that's not the fair's intent, he noted. The fairgrounds differs from those facilities in that it is what he called a "dirty facility" with large buildings and ample parking.
"We're not going after the same business sector that the OnCenter does or the SRC Arena," he said. "We're really going for the big regional shows that aren't here yet, draw them into this area where they bring a lot of people and hopefully a lot of money to spend with them."
While the fair is doing some initial work to attract events to the expo center, those responsibilities will be handled by a private booking company in the future.
The state issued a request for proposals earlier this month as it seeks a private company to book nonfair events at the center. The proposals are due at the end of January.
Waffner believes it will be beneficial to the fair to have a private entity booking events at the expo center. There are fair employees who work with promoters to book nonfair events, he said, but it's a small staff.
"By going to a booking company hopefully with national ties they will be able to put us in touch or do more outreach and really have full-time people dedicated to the effort of signing shows up and bringing them to the state fairgrounds in central New York," Waffner said.
The construction happening at the fairgrounds will have another benefit: job creation.
The winning bidder to build the expo center is a joint venture between Hueber-Breuer Construction in Syracuse and The Pike Company in Rochester. The contractors will work from now through the summer to ensure the facility is ready for the 2018 fair.
With work already beginning at the fairgrounds, Waffner said it will give roughly 200 employees in the building trades work during a time of year when they are usually inactive.
"It's going to be a good thing for everybody," he said.
In other news:
• The state Department of Transportation and its contractor continues to work on improvements at the Orange Lot across Interstate 690 from the fairgrounds. Waffner said paving the lot will add 2,500 new parking spots in the lot, which can currently hold up to 5,000 vehicles.
The lot was mainly dirt and gravel before the work began. When it would rain, the lot would lose 20 to 25 percent of its capacity. With people coming and going during a good day at the fair, Waffner said the lot could provide parking for 15,000 vehicles daily.
• With record attendance again in 2017, parking was a challenge. The fair opened up more parking and established more park-and-ride lots to alleviate the problem.
As officials prepare for the 2018 fair, Waffner said there have been meetings between the fair, Centro, state Department of Transportation and state police about parking. He expects that they will retain many of the park-and-ride locations they set up this year. They are also exploring having more parking lots at properties near the fairgrounds. The additional lots could be available for the 2018 fair. Some might not be finalized until the 2019 fair.
• The fair's Cyber Monday sale was a success. During the one-day sale, the fair sold nearly 22,000 admission tickets and 5,000 ride-all-day wristbands. (The wristbands sold out within a few hours.) The $3 admission tickets were on sale for 18 hours.
Other sales are planned, including the annual Halfway to the Fair and Cinco de Mayo offers.