Nearly five years to the day after the Nebraska State Fair move became official, leaders unveil plans for a major expansion with a $5.4 million new building.Fair leaders say it's a testament to how far they've come in just a few short years. State Fair Director Joseph McDermott said, "It won't be ready for the 2013 Nebraska State Fair, but we'll start construction within the next 30 days and anticipate moving into the building the first of 2014."
The building was first proposed five years ago, but because of budget concerns, and uncertainty in the move to Grand Island, they put it on hold.
Fair board members confess they were hoping attendance would reach 200,000 a year. It surpassed 300,000 in 2010, and despite oppressive heat, hit nearly 340,000 in 2012.
Now, they say there's no doubt they've built a firm foundation in central Nebraska.
McDermott said, "The first three fairs have been fabulous. Had over one million visitors. Things are going very well and we just want to make sure we're able to continue to see progress each and every year."
It's hard to argue with success. They've got a waiting list from vendors wanting to be part of it.
Board President Jana Kruger said, "We're already almost running at capacity in terms of places for vendors to be."
Facilities Director Jaime Parr said, "The entries continue to be overwhelming. Our returning vendors are coming back very strong and we're hearing from lots of new vendors too who, word on the street is, they need to be at the Nebraska State Fair."
The 54,000 square foot "Nebraska Building" will house all the agricultural commodity groups, and Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
And it will see the return of an attraction that failed to make the move to Lincoln.
"We're very excited that Game and Parks will be coming back to the fair in 2014," McDermott said, saying they will bring back their shooting sports and aquarium
The two-story building will also create permanent fair offices plus a museum. McDermott said financing will come from Nebraska banks. He said they are still working on selecting a contractor.
The building will run north and south, in contrast to the other buildings that run east-west. McDerrmott promised it would be an attractive building, and would be visible as fairgoers enter the main gate.
They hope the addition conveys a message of growth and progress.
"Continue to look for other wow factors," McDermott said.
The new building won't be ready until 2014, but there are other changes in store. A new midway provider will arrive in 2013. Wade Shows is rated as one of the nation's best.
The fair is also paying to air condition the Fonner Concourse.