It's a tough but necessary decision: The New York State Fair has been canceled for 2020.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that the 18-day event, which was scheduled for Aug. 21 through Sept. 7, won't be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's the first time since 1947 that the state fair has been canceled.
From 1942 through 1947, the state fair wasn't held because the fairgrounds were used as a military base during World War II. According to the fair's website, the event returned with a six-day run in 1948.
The formal cancellation of the state fair was expected. When Cuomo visited Syracuse in late April, he mentioned the possibility of not holding the state fair because of the ongoing public health crisis. He has repeated those comments over the last few months. During a conference call with reporters in late June, he said the state fair was "not in a position to go ahead."
The state is in the midst of a phased reopening of businesses. Social gatherings of up to 50 people are permitted. While the number of active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, the virus remains a concern.
Several states already canceled their fairs this year. The Minnesota State Fair, which ranks one spot ahead of New York for overall attendance, was canceled in late May.
"Fairs all across the nations are not reopening," Cuomo said. "We have a fantastic state fair in Syracuse. We've invested a lot of money. We've had record attendance — 1.3 million people last year ... It's been an economic boon for the whole region, but this year we're going to have to cancel it and that makes me, personally, very unhappy. But that is where we are."
Cuomo had big plans for the state fair this year. He announced in January that the annual event would expand from 13 to 18 days. It was a major development, and one that could've helped New York compete with Minnesota and Texas in the overall fair attendance category.
The state fair has been a priority for Cuomo during his time in office. The state has invested more than $120 million in the fairgrounds, including the construction of a 136,000-square-foot exposition center. The midway has been expanded, there's a new main gate, upgrades to the RV park and the Orange Lot, one of the fair's main parking lots, was paved.
The investment has paid off. In each of the last four years, the state fair has set new all-time attendance records. The fair drew 1,329,275 visitors in 2019, the highest attendance for one fair in its history. The fair also set a single-day attendance record with 147,749 fairgoers on Aug. 31, 2019.
But the expanded 18-day fair and the pursuit of another attendance mark will have to wait for at least one more year.
"This is a really tough one," Cuomo said.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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