Pie in the Sky

Your State Fair Hound is alarmed that County Exec Joanie Mahoney has seemingly inserted herself into decisions about the New York State Fair despite having no authority to do so. Sure, she’s one of Cuomo’s political allies and she’s pushed through the ill-advised approval leading to the ongoing construction of an amphitheater on the lakeshore, but now she’s spouting her grandiose and uninformed ideas for changing the grounds.

No doubt Mahoney’s ultimate goals are political and will favor her friends and relatives. That’s what she does. We could even wind up with someone in her circle as director. That way Cuomo could reward her loyalty.

But at a time when there’s supposed to be less cronyism and political dealing in the administration of our favorite event, the sleeze factor behind Joanie’s operations are a step in the wrong direction. It would seem she’s got enough to do, finding jobs for her families, both biological and political, and advancing her own partisan agenda.

One group that should be terrified that Joanie may wield some power over the Fair are employees. Joanie Baloney has taken every opportunity to bash and mistreat county employees, not including those she favors, of course. She pushes for huge raises for political allies while fighting fair treatment of rank and file. The more involvement Mahoney has at the Fair, the worse for openness, fairness and integrity.

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One thing that has been said is that the Grandstand, soon to be supplanted as the venue for paid-admission Fair concerts, is destined to be demolished. We aren’t completely surprised by that revelation and Acting Director Troy Waffner has said that the vacated space now occupied by the seating and track can be utilized in many ways for Fair attractions and events. Sounds promising.

But if the plan has been to tear down the Grandstand, why couldn’t the new amphitheater be built where it belongs—within the friendly confines of the Great New York State Fair?

Apparently it has finally dawned on the Post-Standard that Fair vendors would be adversely affected by the diversion of thousands of concert fans completely avoiding the grounds when they go to a show. Hound readers may recall—and can now review—our analysis on that subject (Hold the Shows, 7/11/14 and Concerted Success, 9/11/14).

Business operators rightfully fear loss of traffic to the new concert shell. That’s not to mention the racing fans who are facing the end of the phenomenally popular Super Dirt Week on the historic dirt track.

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And we sure don’t understand the idea Joanie is promoting to build year-round stores along State Fair Boulevard, opposite the gates. Does she really think people will be strolling along that stretch to shop and eat, especially during the winter when they can drive less than two miles to Destiny and the Inner Harbor? Ridiculous. Plus it would take up acres of prime parking space, making the Fair itself less attractive to visitors.

We wish Mahoney would shut up and butt out. Leave it the Fair pros to plan for improvements, never forgetting that preserving the identity and tradition of the New York State Fair has to be the main focus.

August Dreamin’

As frigid weather lays heavy over Central New York, do what your State Fair Hound does, think about those glorious August days coming up at the New York State Fair, 2015 version.

We appreciate the Fair helping us to focus on the warm embrace of our favorite event with some early announcements of musical acts on the bill. The bookings of Eric Church and Everclear have been supplemented with a recently-released list of sideshow acts returning to entertain around the grounds.

We can’t disagree with Acting Director Troy Waffner’s assertion that fans will be pleased with the return—after a one-year absence—of the Sea Lion Splash (illustration by Nick LoPresti).

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The Hound holds out hope that one day the Fair will become a leader in refusing to book acts that feature wild animals. We don’t believe that the sea lions or the Wolves of the World, also returning this year, are mistreated in any way. But no matter how kindly these creatures are treated, life in captivity, traveling from town to town, can’t satisfy their wild nature and instincts.

Also on the list of acts announced are the Walker Brothers Circus, wandering performers Hilby and Bandolini (Herm Card photo) and Team Sandtastic, builders of the sand sculpture. The complete list is on the Fair’s website, nysfair.org.

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Prime Pick

A new Fair executive was hired back in November to work with, not replace, Acting Director Troy Waffner.

John Kitchen now occupies the newly-created position of chief of staff, to assist the director with the Fair’s business. Kitchen had been an internal control officer for the Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Fair’s parent agency, and he will continue to do that job as well as his new one.

There’s been no announcement regarding the hiring of a permanent Fair Director, though the Hound and other Fair aficionados have made It clear that the appointment of Waffner (pictured at left in a photo by Nick LoPresti) is obviously warranted.

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Come on, Gov. Take a look at the 2014 edition for proof that our boy Troy is the person for the job. A flawless run with several records set and numerous improvements unveiled.

2015 is now five weeks old and the Fair website tells us that there are 203 days until the gates open for this year’s event, so make Waffner permanent and let’s move on.

Pot O’ Gold

The Governor included in his budget proposal, released Wednesday, $50 million for our New York State Fair. Of course, budgets are always subject to negotiation and legislative approval, but wouldn’t it be great to see our Fair get such a huge financial boost? We at State Fair Hound are already dreaming up ways to spend the money.

Replacement of the Main gate is already on the agenda, but where to go from there? Improvements to Chevy Court could be a big ticket item that pays off in the long run, creating a better experience for fans of that terrific free concert series.

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During this past Fair we mentioned the deterioration of the Horticulture Building’s beautiful masonry and tiles as an urgent need that falls under the heading of infrastructure.

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Even $50 million isn’t a tremendous sum of money when it comes to major improvements, some of which may not be crowd-pleasing , readily- noticeable upgrades. Things like roofing, insulation, electrical work, drainage systems and tightened security could be money well spent. Then there’s parking lots and traffic-related improvements.

It surely doesn’t stop there, but when you’re dealing with a 375 acre property, there are a lot of decisions to made. As we said, the money is by no means a sure thing at this point, but we’ve got to think that Acting Director Troy Waffner and the Fair staff have a wish list to work from. Let’s hope they get the support they deserve to make our Fair better.

Gateway to Excitement

Today we start our winter review of some of the recent newsworthy developments of the past few weeks, beginning with one about which we’re really excited.

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An intriguing piece in the Dec. 21 Post-Standard reports that those entering the New York State Fair through the main gate will be greeted by an entirely new entrance. The write-up doesn’t give details, but we’ll try to get some for you.

The current gate is really nothing more than a span of roofing above chain link fencing and turnstiles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but those of us who remember its predecessor know that it can be more elaborate, attractive and memorable, especially considering that it’s a focal point of the grounds.

If you’re lucky enough to have a copy of Henry W. Schramm’s 1985 book Empire Showcase, A History of the New York State Fair, there’s a photo on page 120 of the glorious gate that was in use in 1948. We’re not sure how long that one lasted, but the ornate wrought iron fencing and handsome masonry columns may provide some inspiration for the new design. In any event, planners should try to pick up on the theme of the architecture of the nearby buildings.

The above photo by Nick LoPresti shows the replica of an early carriage gate created for the State Fair history display in the Grange Building.

Catching Up, Looking Ahead

The past few weeks have been the quiet time of year for our Fair and the Hound has been likewise inactive. But there have been a few splashes of news recently, so it seems like time to take a look at the developments.

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Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll get caught up with our exclusive and independent analysis of items including a decisions on the lakeside amphitheater, a new hire in management, more accolades for the Fair’s performance and improvement, the first Grandstand booking, more infrastructure upgrades to come and other changes on the way for 2015.

Please check back soon and join us as we start to gain momentum toward another great New York State Fair.

Autumn Wildlife

A visit to the Fairgrounds over this past weekend gave a glimpse into off-season life at the home of our favorite event. The Empire Alpaca Extravaganza is a terrific annual show and the wooly ones didn’t disappoint. It’s a great festival that really showcases one of nature’s true wonders in a way that sparks interest and admiration for them.

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Most of the grounds were quiet with autumn foliage bringing color that remind of that ubiquitous neon dominating just two months ago. We did see this horse and trainer working on the track and a resident woodchuck enjoying the sunny day near the midway.

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The next big event is Harvest Fest Saturday and there are more events throughout the fall, so why not drop by the Fairgrounds?

Alpaca Fun

Following the Hound’s Sep. 30 post, about fall activities at the Fairgrounds, Falling For the Fairgrounds, we heard from Kara Lynn Dunn who reminded us about a terrific annual event that’s coming up on Oct. 25 and 26 in the cow barn. The Empire Alpaca Extravaganza is a free event that brings in farmers and ranchers from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, including 16 New York State farms, all here to display their alpacas, the South American cousin of their camel, revered for having soft and amazingly warm wool.

These llama relatives are increasingly popular in the United States, particularly in northern states where they are unfazed by cold temperatures and content to graze on grass. The nationally-certified free event will feature competitions, seminars, a fleece competition, youth activities, a fiber arts demonstration and a vendor marketplace. Some animals will be sold over the weekend and visitors will be encouraged to explore alpaca ownership as a business opportunity.

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Sixth Day Farms of Brockport will be at the 2014 Empire Alpaca Extravaganza with alpacas from its herd of more than 100. Farm owners Wayne and Leann Jarvis have developed a selective breeding program specializing in fine white huacayas noted for animals with premium fiber quality throughout their lifetime. Alexandra Weaver is seen here with Synergy’s Queen Bea who will be at the show. Photo provided by the Empire Alpaca Association.

The extravaganza is a great family event as the personable alpacas fill the barn, often within petting range. Baby alpacas, known as crias, are especially adorable. Early Christmas shoppers can find sweaters, gloves, socks, hats and other apparel items of unparalleled quality and wearability, some woven in the US from animals raised here and fiber woven by American crafters. Extravaganza hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. each day.

For more information, visit the organization’s website, www.empirealpacaassociation.com.

Foiled Again

The Hound is having a hard time understanding how New York State can justify its refusal to release to media copies of the contracts under which performers played the 2014 New York State Fair. The request covers both Chevrolet Court, where Joan Jett (photo by Nick LoPresti), among others, played, as well as the Grandstand, where Train (photo from their Wikipedia site) was one of the headliners.

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An Oct. 1, 2014 article by Chris Baker on Syracuse.com reports that the Dept. of Agriculture and Markets has three times delayed release of the contracts requested under the Freedom of Information Act. These are records held by a government agency that should be readily available with a minimum of red tape.

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Someone should remind Gov. Cuomo that we’re talking about our money paying for these shows. These contracts have been released for past Fairs and they should be released for this one without further delay.

Falling for the Fairgrounds

For those of us who can’t get enough of the New York State Fair, there are plenty of off-season activities going on the grounds, from horse and livestock shows to trade shows, motorsports events, theater, ethnic festivals and so much more. Find them all on the Fair website, nysfair.org.

But it occurs to us that with so many major fall festivals taking place throughout Central New York annually, why not another big blowout at the Expo Center? Picture the Horticulture Building and its reflecting pool surrounded by the fiery colors of fall and brought to life by a swarm of visitors celebrating the Empire State’s most distinctive season.

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We’re not suggesting anything nearly as grand as the Fair itself, but the facility lends itself to something to rival the Lafayette Apple Festival, the Golden Harvest Festival, the Central Square Apple Festival and really any you can name that are as much parts of autumn as falling leaves and pumpkin pie.
It could be a more relaxed, but still exciting and fun backdrop with less high-tech, sophisticated attractions than the Fair, not to mention less emphasis on glowing neon, and centering around great food, kid-sized rides and entertainment, a special autumn version of the Iroquois Village, antiques and fall products from wine to apples.

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The sky would be the limit if the event was successful and popular as we all know that the grounds can handle the parking, the staging of events at Chevy Court, indoors areas in any of a number of buildings, food stands galore and barns for animal events.

We don’t envision this fest as an extension of the State Fair, but rather as its own special event. We also don’t expect the Fair staff to take this on, but maybe deal with a major promoter to do the organization, promotion and operation. We remember an early version of the Taste of Syracuse being held at the Fairgrounds and Syracuse Nationals has grown into a tremendous perennial favorite, so we know unique festivals like this can succeed there. Might be worth a try.