State Fair

The pandemic forced the cancellation of the State Fair last year but it’s roaring back to life near Ahwatukee this fall.

The roar of midway rides and the smell of fried everything is coming to a place not far from Ahwatukee this fall.

The State Fair Board last week voted to move the 2021 fair to the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, saying it was bigger than the fairgrounds and thus could better accommodate socially distanced patrons.

Although the board in a release called it a temporary location and a lease was signed only for one year, the decision comes at a time when a Scottsdale developer and the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority are assembling tenants for a 3,300-acre sports and entertainment complex.

The project lead, Sunbelt Holdings of Scottsdale, and the Gila River Indian Community’s development arm envision additional hotels, wellness and event centers, an outdoor amphitheater for concerts, sports facilities, outdoor recreation and parks, restaurants, retail establishments and an office park.

Sunbelt Holdings declined AFN’s request for comment on whether the State Fair’s move might  become more permanent.

The fair administration through a Sunbelt Holdings spokeswoman said, “Future years are unknown as this is currently just a one-year agreement.  In addition to Wild Horse Pass being an ideal state fair location, the larger site at WHP Motorsports Park allows for physically distancing and other health mitigation measures.”

Dates are still being finalized, though the fair is tentatively slated for Oct. 7-31.

Following its vote March 25, the fair board issued a statement that said:

“Since 1905, the Arizona State Fair has been a shining jewel in downtown Phoenix, drawing residents from across our State. Feeling the urge to bring fun back to the community this Fall, the Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board today voted to move forward with the 2021 Fair on the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority.”

The fair was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

“As the impact of COVID-19 continues to affect the way the live event industry operates, we’ve been exploring ways to hold an event safely and successfully,” said Wanell Costello, state fair executive Director. 

Board Chairman Jonathan Lines added, “While we are hopeful that vaccine distribution will mean a return to normality, this temporary location gives us the ability to plan and ensure the fair goes on no matter what.” 

Named a Top 10 State Fair by USA Today, over a million guests visit the fair each year.

That raises questions as to whether noise from the fair will reach the ears of some Ahwatukee residents who in the past have complained about well-attended raves held at Rawhide Western Town and Event Center, which is located on Wild Horse Pass land but a bit farther south of the fair site.

Almost every rave in the past has generated a series of spirited social media comments, mainly on Ahwatukee 411, with some people complaining they can hear the music emanating from Rawhide and other posters defending the young people who attend the events.

The board said in no uncertain terms that virtually every feature the Arizona State Fair is known for will be at the Wild Horse Pass version.

“And beyond cotton candy, turkey legs, funnel cake and fried food on sticks, beyond the Skyride and the Mega Drop, the fluffy animals and Coliseum Concerts, are the memories Arizonans have treasured for generations, the board’s statement said. “For 2021, this tradition continues at the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority.”

The fair also coincides with the scheduled beginning of the four-year project to widen the I-10 from the 17 “Split” interchange to the Loop 202 Santan Freeway/South Mountain Freeway.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is planning an additional HOV lane in each direction between the Salt River bridges and just west of US 60; a new collector-distributor roadway system that would funnel traffic to local and express lanes to improve traffic flow; reconstruction of the I-10/State Route 143 interchange to improve access to and from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; and improving US 60 near the junction with I-10.

The announcement of the fair’s purportedly temporary relocation drew kudos from Ahwatukee City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who posted on his Facebook page, “Wild Horse Pass has an amazing facility that will allow the fair more room to operate and follow distancing protocols. Ahwatukee residents have a unique chance to enjoy this great event in their backyard. Restaurants, hotels and others in the area will benefit greatly.”

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