Local News

New Fair Park Proposal Argues State Fair Sprawl Is Bad for Business

"At present, the layout of the State Fair of Texas resembles older Las Vegas casinos with directionless pathways, confusing choices, and exhausting environments."

Ash+Lime's re-imagined State Fair includes a wind turbine.
Ash+Lime’s re-imagined State Fair includes a wind turbine.

There have been a few new plans for Fair Park batted around since the effort began to consider moving the management of the city facility to a private non-profit organization. This latest one comes from a Dallas-based urban planning firm called Ash + Lime, and it makes a simple, but compelling argument. Yes, the State Fair of Texas is too big, the Ash+Lime study contends, but the people who should be most upset about the sprawling fair that gobbles up the park aren’t park or neighborhood advocates, but rather the State Fair itself. That’s because the size and layout of the State Fair is actually leaving money on the table.

Here’s the full study, which makes comparisons between the operations of various theme parks, casinos, county fairs, expositions, cruise ships, and resorts to argue that the State Fair is too big and poorly laid out.

“At present, the layout of the State Fair of Texas resembles older Las Vegas casinos with directionless pathways, confusing choices, and exhausting environments,” the report says. “In such places it is easy to feel lost, arrive at dead ends, and repeatedly stumble upon “back of the house” areas intended for servicing and loading.”

Instead, the State Fair should look to Disneyland for best practices in how to attract guests, make them enjoy their visitor experience, and, most importantly, part them from their wallets. There’s a data table on page 11 that drives the point home pretty well. According to the 2013 Baylor studio of the State Fair of Texas, it attracts around 62,500 people per day, comparable to Disneyland’s 51,507 visitors per day. But each of those visitors at Disneyland spend $131 on average, while the State Fair visitors only spend around $14. Even when compared to the State Fair’s own attendance numbers (which are believed to be inflated), visitors only spend around $18.80. Disneyland is about half the size of the State Fair’s layout in Fair Park, which the Ash+Lime folks believe is not insignificant to their ability to sell more stuff.

The report, which was funded by former Trammell Crow executive Don Williams’ Foundation for Community Empowerment and is reminiscent of other Williams-backed plans from UTA and urban designer Antonio Di Mambro, lays out a plan for how the State Fair should reconfigure itself, using up less Fair Park acreage, with the requisite maps and watercolors.


  • Bizarro BigTex

    Peter, you lay out a compelling approach to measuring Fair success by dollars received per attendee, per the Ash + Lime analysis. Unfortunately, that is not the
    measurement by which the old school supporters and founders judged this tradition-bound event. It has always been about size and scale. The wow factor. This is Texas, so the Fair had to be the biggest and grandest. Large buildings. Expansive lawns and walkways. Interesting exhibits which were free to the hoi polloi after they had paid their gate admission. Free samples galore and lots of free nicknacks and brochures. When the common folk left, they had a bag overflowing with freebies and considered it a good day of entertainment. They bought one Fletcher’s Corny Dog and maybe a few rides for the kids. They did
    not come for a Disneyland experience. They came for an Everyman low cost experience. This is how the State Fair has functioned for lo these many decades. Now modern Dallas thinkers are attempting to apply contemporary analytics and profit center management techniques
    to a historical anachronism. It is akin to attempting to drop a modern hemi V8 engine into a 1908 Model T. While it looks good on paper, the actual outcome can have some unanticipated negative results. Just my two cents.

    • manny

      If we wanted Disneyland, we would go to Disneyland. Bizarro Big Tex is absolutely correct. It’s for our people and we love it.

  • John

    Check the coffers… Texas politicians are known to accept bribes all day everyday!