State Fair makes changes, hopes to bring back fans

Food vendors were busy preparing their tents at the fairgrounds Tuesday.
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The Indiana State Fair begins its 17-day run Friday and, as always, there are changes in store.

Mark Hunter, whose family has operated a food tent at the fair for 20 years, was among those setting up Tuesday afternoon.

"We started Monday and we're just getting stuff up and prepping and getting ready for Friday so there are no surprises," Hunter said.

Like others, Hunter is hoping for good weather. Despite drought conditions across the state much of last summer, the fair saw a good amount of rain.

Last year's attendance was 853,000, the lowest in several years. Besides the weather, the fair also raised ticket prices at the gate and began charging for parking.

Another change that didn't go over as well as expected? After the stage collapse tragedy in 2011, headline concerts were moved to Banker's Life Fieldhouse and the crowds didn't follow.

Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said they learned a lot from that.

He said fans "loved the acts and we had great shows, but people don't want to leave the fairgrounds to go to a concert."

As a result, there won't be any major concerts until next year, when the Pepsi Coliseum renovation is done. Klotz stressed the Marsh Stage will continue to host a number of free concerts, including Styx.

He said while the Coliseum won't be used during the fair, it will be open for tours so fairgoers can see how the overhaul is coming along.

The horse shows and other events typically held in the Coliseum will move to the new 30,000 square foot Youth Arena directly south of the Coliseum. With seating limited, large video boards will be posted outside so fairgoers can still watch the competitions.

Other new attractions include a new Midway area for small children near the entrance off Fall Creek and the glass barn on the north side of the fairgrounds.

"There's no question it will be a bit hit with a lot of people. It really fits in with our mission of teaching people about agriculture and where food comes from," Klotz said.

An animation exhibit in the Grand Hall is expected to be another big draw. Then there's the ice rink at Celebration Park, which will host the Rosstyn Ice Shows.

Klotz said the fair was offering a lot of discounts to draw fairgoers not just once, but several times over the course of its 17-day run.