Expansion, improvements on display at Oklahoma State Fair Park 

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Visitors get their first peek at the progress of a new exposition hall and center at the fair grounds during the annual fair, which runs Thursday-Sept. 27 at 333 Gordon Cooper Blvd.

The new, massive, 279,000-square-foot Expo Center at Oklahoma State Fair Park allows room for more comprehensive and frequent use of the space, venue leadership said.

With more than 200,000 square feet, Expo Center’s wide-open hall space is “about like three football fields side-by-side,” said principal architect Allen Brown of Frankfurt Short Bruza Associates.

In the past, State Fair Park accommodated large events like trade shows by spreading them across several buildings, often forcing clients and attendees into heat, rain, ice and snow as they traversed its segmented portions.

Combining event space into a modern, well-equipped, flexible facility has already piqued the interest of State Fair Park’s bigger clients as well as potential ones. Scott Munz, Oklahoma State Fair’s vice president of marketing and communications, said they are “excited about the prospect of that building coming online.”

The location was too often skipped over by promoters looking for an all-in-one facility, Munz said, and this new venue puts the city back “in the hunt.”

Bill Allen, vice president of State Fair Park operations, said a hangar-like door on the building’s west end that large equipment, such as a combine, can be driven through will allow the largest shows to easily inhabit the building.

“It will be about 40 feet clear at the lowest points and 45 feet clear in the center,” he said.

Expo Center also is designed with 10,000 square feet of space to accommodate food preparation needs for the venue and the rest of State Fair Park.

Updated technology was also a priority, and its features include lobby video screens, state-of-the-art video security, Wi-Fi and an infrastructure that allows for future technology updates.

City investment

The City of Oklahoma City owns State Fair Park and has made improvements to it over the years to maintain and increase its value.

Last year, direct spending at its events had a $336 million economic impact on the city, Munz said.

David Todd, MAPS program manager, said one-cent sales taxes collected for MAPS 3 paid for Expo Center and other State Fair Park improvements.

The MAPS budget allows $44 million for exposition facility construction, $54 million for fairgrounds improvements and another $4.5 million for new parking lots and other site improvements separate from this project.

The Oklahoma State Fair is State Fair Park’s centerpiece and earns the venue its annual operating budget. Last year, it earned the city approximately $100 million.

In recent years, some fair patrons have been distressed by the removal of iconic buildings that had nevertheless outlived their original purposes and retained limited promise for the future.

Its raceway, grandstand and monorail, as well as 4-H, FFA and travel and transportation structures, were removed to create room for newer, more flexible redevelopment.

Munz said those changes respect the emotional ties to the fair that families have developed over the years and when changes need to be made, they “give it great thought and consideration.”

When looking at the overall picture, however, Munz and Allen said the 435-acre State Fair Park has become more than a location for its annual state fair.

For example, its management has cultivated long-term relationships with major horse shows. Its history with American Morgan Horse Association and American Quarter Horse Association spans three decades, Munz said, and it has also worked closely with National Reining Horse Association.

“Back in the mid-’80s, it was decided by our leaders at the time that they were going to go after horse shows because they recognized that as a viable business category,” he said. “So they went after horse shows and they built this schedule; they built these relationships.”

In fact, National Reining Horse Association moved its headquarters to the site and holds two of its biggest shows there each year.

Print headline: Fair park, The Oklahoma State Fair draws visitors and dollars to the city. Now, it is poised to do more.

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