North Dakota State Fair Hast Lost $11.4 Million Since 1999

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The North Dakota State Fair Association is currently in a fight with the Ward County Historical Society over land currently being used to display historic buildings from the region. The NDSFA wants that land, but the Ward County Historical Society, which saw damage to their buildings from the 2011 flooding, doesn’t have the resources available to move their buildings.

But what caught my eye in the battle is the reason why the NDSFA wants that land. After building a new grandstand (costing state taxpayers over $15 million) the NDSFA wants to build a new convention center:

Gary Knell, Hazen, chairman of the State Fair Board, said the land probably is worth $1 million. The State Fair Association’s master plan for the fairgrounds is to eventually build a new convention center in that location that would be attached to the State Fair Center. Knell said the fair board is in a difficult position because it has been directed by the State Fair Association general membership to begin negotiations with the historical society to relocate Pioneer Village. State Fair Manager Renae Korslien said no firm plans have been drawn up for such a convention center, no approval has yet been given and no money is yet available. Knell said the master plan calls for it to be put in place in under five years.

No doubt state and local taxpayers will be asked to put up funds for this new convention center. Certainly the NDSFA couldn’t pay for it out of their proceeds. According to financial statements I obtained through an open records request (see below) the North Dakota State Fair has been hemorrhaging money for nearly a decade and a half.

Here’s a chart of the losses (note that there was no fair in 2011 due to flooding, so those losses might be excused):

graph (2)

The grim reality is that the State Fair has lost money every single year since 1999. And this despite a 47% increase in attendance since 1999:

graph (3)

Admissions have gone up in cost too:

2000-2003
Adult Season Gate Pass $20
Advanced Adult Daily Gate $5
Adult Daily Gate $6

2010-2012
Adult Season Gate Pass $25
Adult Daily Gate $8

Without a consistent infusion of millions of tax dollars, mostly from Ward County and the City of Minot but some from the state as well, the North Dakota State Fair would have ceased to exist long ago. And anyone who has ever attended the state fair knows it’s far from cheap. It’s extremely expensive for a family to attend, plus we subsidize the enterprise to boot.

Before the drum beat starts for yet another expansion on the state fair grounds, perhaps it’s time to ask why this enterprise can’t operate in the black and pay for its own facilities.

NDSF Financial Disclosures

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • camsaure

    guess Minot must want it’s own Alerus center just like Grand Forks has. It will most likeley be unprofitable and mismanaged and be forced to be supported by the taxpayers. Talk about crony capitalism.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      guess Minot must want it’s own Alerus center just like Grand Forks has

      I hope that’s not where we’re heading.

  • spud

    The same could be said for all the county fair’s held in state also. The Pembina County Fair has been a dead horse for years and yet county commissioner’s continue to pump funds into it. The Fargo Dome has never seen a year when expenses could not be met with operating funds but in 2011 if not for the three Bison playoff games they would have finished in the red. This year there profit will go from 50 to 55,000 to 120 to 125,000 because of the Bison. I know the fair brings in top notch entertainment but there is no profit to be made for the venue for paying for this talent. Not sure how the RRV Fair does but I do not see how they make money either. Have good memories from going to state fair but have not been to one since 1999.

    • Jon P

      The RRVF has been making money the past few year with their new manager.

    • camsaure

      Sort of like the Alerus center right? Most family people cannot even afford the parking fees, much less the other exorberant fees they charge for everything else. Why don’t the so called busineses that profit from this(Harry & some motels) pony up and pay for this themselves if this is supposed to be so great??? Instead we have mismanagement(crony capitalism) and serious losses, yet the public whom cannot even afford to bring their families there being forced to pay for it.

  • Lianne

    There is a new manager for the State Fair. Let’s see how she does financially. I agree, there is waste. The $15 million grandstand is empty 50 plus weeks out of the year and I don’t know that a convention center is needed, but I would think that the historical society would have already been looking for higher ground if preservation of history is really their goal.
    The entertainment, midway, etc are secondary to the real purpose of the State Fair. The showing of hard work by farmers, ranchers, and their children is often their high-light of the year when they win a grand champion ribbon plus some spending money.

    • Roy_Bean

      “There is a new manager for the State Fair. Let’s see how she does financially.”

      Good point, the Olympics almost always lose money unless Mitt runs them.

  • borborygmi

    disband the board sell the land and buildings and put up apt buildings for the oilpatch

  • borborygmi

    Why should Minot and its economy benefit from the Taxpayers.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well, given that most of the gap between revenues and expnditures is made up by tax dollars from the Minot area, we’re basically being taxed for the right to have the fair.

      And I’m not sure how much of a benefit you could say it is. How many people really come from that far away from it? How much of the revenue is all local anyway?

      • borborygmi

        well there you go, time to disband the board and sell the land.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          I think it ought to be privatized. If they can run it at a profit, great.

  • VocalYokel

    “If you build it, he will come.”

    Who’da thunk the line from a movie would become an economic philosophy?

  • Guest

    I worship profit, therefore I think we should get rid of parks, schools, community centers, and any publicly held events. And no, when all of the hotels and a bunch of RVs in Minot are full of people spending money and buying things when the fair is in town it generates zero revenue for local businesses in the city.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      The state fair doesn’t fill all the hotels and RV parks. I’d be willing to guess that most of the fair’s revenues from admissions, concert tickets, etc. comes from people in Minot or the surrounding area.

      The economic impact argument is pretty bogus.

      • Guest

        You are right all of the rvs and hotel dwellers drove from Burlington or across town because they enjoy camping out or staying in a hotel. None of those people are from bismarck, montana, Canada, come from other areas around the country to visit family, or are from other places around the state. When they are in town none of them go to the mall, eat out, buy gas, actually pay their hotel bill, or go to any other businesses. Besides that none of the services or anything inside the fair are provided by local businesses. So you are right the fair has no economic impact on Minot all of that money simply goes to the carnies and The James Brown band. This reminds me a lot of how the Minnesota Vikings and Twins bring zero money into the Twin Cities or Minnesota, stupid economically illiterate liberals.

        • camsaure

          So if it is all that great ,why haven’t those busineses got together on their own and got this all together??? Why put it on the backs of people who cannot (especially in these times) Afford to go their on their own?

          • Guest

            Do you know what the free rider problem in economics is?

      • The Fighting Czech

        Id have to agree, I live 200 miles from Minot, never had the urge to “go to the fair” and I only know of one family in the area that makes the trip, and they have Grand Kids there.

        • Guest

          300,000 attended the fair over the course of 9 days, for granted many are return visitors but this is well over 30,000 people a day. in the first three days there were 120,000 for 40,000 a day. All of this in a town of 40,000 people.

          • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

            That’s a lot of visits, to be sure.

            So why can’t they turn a profit?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      And what’s wrong with expecting an enterprise like this to be profitable? If there’s sufficient demand, shouldn’t they be able to turn a profit?

      And if there isn’t sufficient demand, why in the world are we doing it?

      • Guest

        Do businesses and vendors in town record large profits during the fair?

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          There’s not a business in town that could ts on the fair for its existence.

    • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

      I think if those that want to see entertainment should pay for it themselves. They need to quit being greedy and expecting the rest of us to support them.

  • eury

    Even though I only ever write to disagree with you, I thought you might like this article about convention centers. I have my own liberal reasons for not liking them, but there’s stuff for you too in this: http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2012/7/11/convention-centers-its-a-race-to-the-bottom.html

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Thanks

  • Stuart

    This is happening because of the of the Political Cronies that control Fargo, and West Fargo and would rather have the tax payer have deep pockets. It’s typical of a city that operates like the Federal Government. Spend whether or not you meet the point of diminishing returns. Like I stated above the Middle Class have deep pockets and will not FULLY understand the REPERCUSSIONS OF THEIR OWN DEMISE.

  • The Fighting Czech

    Why is the State Fair so early? and the County fairs seem to be so late?…Isnt it backwards? I just assume that the State fair should be held after the County Fairs…

    the current organization of county and state fairs seems chaotic and unorganized. I dont doubt they have money issues.

    Minot as the host for the state fair has the problem of trying to attract people from the Higher populated Red River Valley, and those people can just as easily attend the Minnesota State Fair, in the twin cities. which have a lot more things to offer visitors, then Minot… Perhaps with the oilfields, Minot can improve attendance,

    As long as its cheaper to do things in the United States, then Canada. Canadians will continue to flock across the border Fair, or no Fair. ( of course the way we, in this country are heading….That could be reversed, and some day we may be the ones crashing the borders every week for cheap shopping!!!)

    If something doesnt change, I can see a lot of County fairs becoming a relic of history. Perhaps the State fair is as well.. The Fair used to be the big event of the year for those in the past, but perhaps with the convenience of “jumping on a plane” to Vegas for the weekend, or vacationing in Florida, or the Bahamas being so common place these days, things like the fair are now considered “lame”

  • Kari

    Rob, I quess that you do NOT have an accounting degree. Please ask an accountant to read this financial report for you because you have mis-read it and also mis-represented it. Please be responsible with your comments. You are misleading your reading public with wrong information.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      That’s certainly not true. I posted the documents. The revenues and expenditures speak for themselves.

      • Kari

        Exactly what I am saying. You are showing two different reports. Cash flow and the reveunues & expenditures. Your not being responsible because your not showing the full report. If you knew anything about accounting, depreciation is not part of a loss. Net assets are up each year, unless there was a major capital purchase. Why are you lying? Just because this is “say anything blog” doesn’t mean you can make up your own stories and hurt people. Have some morels.

        • Guest

          This blog being dishonest and misrepresenting things…never

          • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

            I haven’t misrepresented anything. The math speaks for itself.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          I’m not lying. You’re spinning.

          In terms of revenue earned, and expenditures, they’ve lost money. Period.

          That’s the story.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          Let’s put it this way.

          Say I own a retail store. I spend x amount of dollars on buying merchandise, paying employees, etc. I receive y amount of dollars selling goods and services.

          If x is bigger than y, my operation is losing money. Now, I might be able to hide those losses if, say, the value of my building went up a great deal for whatever reason or if I have investments through the company that went up in value. But that really doesn’t change the fact that my primary business is operating at a loss.

          The primary business of the State Fair Association is putting on the state fair. And the state fair isn’t profitable.

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