The fate of this year’s Colorado State Fair in August will be determined by June 24. Meanwhile, the fairgrounds are serving as a COVID-19 testing facility for Pueblo County residents through the end of May. (James Bartolo for PULP)
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Colorado State Fair board members are treating the likelihood of the Fair’s arrival in late August as a 50-50 chance.
“We are not speculating,” said Scott Stoller, executive director of the Colorado State Fair. “We just can’t afford to do that. We are, as staff, we’re preparing for both scenarios equally because when the time comes to make that decision, we need to not be caught flat footed. We have to be able to be nimble and move whatever direction we have to move.”
With a minimum 10,000 attendees expected daily at the fairgrounds, officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment along with the Pueblo County Department of Health and Environment, must determine whether or not “free movement” will be safe throughout Colorado by opening day, Stoller said.
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“Any type of social that’s in place is going to be… I’m not going to say impossible, but to enforce that with over 10,000 people… there is not enough police in the state to enforce that,” Stoller said. “There’s no way we would be able to keep everybody safe with any type of social distancing in place.”
The deadline for a decision is slated for June 24. The Fair will either be held August 28 through September 7 or be cancelled. It is unlikely the date will be postponed as several state fair festivities, such as the Colorado’s Electric Cooperative Junior Livestock Sale on September 1, are dependent on timeliness.
“They raise their animals, they buy them a certain date, they feed them a certain amount of food so that they are market ready for Fair,” Stoller said. “You can’t really tell a kid raising a pig that you got to wait two months. It just doesn’t work.”
Cancellation of the Fair would have an estimated economic impact of $29 million, Stoller said.
Bob Carruth, owner of Brooklyn Pueblo Corp., has been a vendor at the Colorado State Fair for the past ten years. Known for his ownership of Manhattan’s Pizza Parlor at the Fair and Manhattan’s at the Pavillion, Carruth acquired two additional concession stand locations for this year’s fair; the Watering Hole Cafe and the Tequila Shot Cantina.
Brooklyn Pueblo Corp. receives roughly 80 percent of its income from State Fair concessions. Carruth said a cancellation of this year’s fair would “all but bankrupt” him. He said cancellation would also greatly affect other fair vendors, local restaurants, and hotels typically bolstered by the surge in Pueblo tourism during the week.
“It’s hard to rebound when everything is based out here,” Carruth said. “My whole company is based out here so not unless they picked up other venues throughout the year. But you can’t recoup from that loss, there’s no way.”
Currently, all private and public rentals of the fairgrounds are cancelled through the end of May, Stoller said. Guidance from state and county health officials for June events at the fairgrounds is expected to come out the final week of May.
“We don’t set the standard here,” Stoller said. “We can’t buck the state health officials and county health officials. We are not going to challenge health officials, especially in these times.”
While the State Fair board is prepared for anything, Stoller said the board remains hopeful for a fair in 2020.
“That’s what is in our DNA here at the State Fairgrounds is to have what people are used to, but we also are realistic and we want to be responsible,” Stoller said. “With the State Fair, we want to make sure the State Fair is something that has a good reputation with the community so we’re going to do whatever is in the best interest and health of everybody in Colorado.”