By ALLISON MIRIANI
Capital News Service
LANSING — The possible relocation of the Michigan State Fair is something that many Detroit area legislators do not want to see.
“From a personal perspective, I went to the State Fair a few times last year and had a great time,” said Rep. David Woodward, D-Royal Oak.
A state senator, however, thinks the time has come to move the fair to where it really belongs — a rural area.
“If we want the fair to have an emphasis on agriculture, we need to move it to where it can,” said Sen. Leon Stille, R-Spring Lake.
The West Michigan lawmaker introduced a resolution to move the fair from the Detroit area, saying he believes the fair has “run its course in Detroit,” and perhaps Michigan state university would be a prime contender for a new site.
“Attendance is going down,” Stille said. “Attendance did decrease to 300,000 last year.”
In recent years the fair had attendance of 440,000.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture would have to study any proposed move of the fair state, but MDA Director Dan Wyant is cautious about the idea so far.
“The issue has been the fair losing money and isn’t it better to move it to where it can succeed?” asked Wyant. “For us, a lot will depend on how the fair does this year.”
Some Detroit area legislators oppose moving the State Fair from the city. This will be the 154th year the event has been held and the 97th year it has been in Detroit.
“I am totally opposed,” said Rep. LaMar Lemmons III, D-Detroit. “It has historically been located in Detroit.
“I think it is symbolic of the revitalization of Detroit–if we can revitalize the fair,” Lemmons said.
Lemmons also said Detroit offers the fair the greatest potential for a diverse population to attend.
“Our Detroit mass transit can be used to travel to the fair,” Lemmons said. “The poor, inner-city people have the availability when the fair is in Detroit.”
Woodward agrees with Lemmons.
“I think it is very short-sighted in thinking we will increase turnout if we move away from where most of the people live,” Woodward said.
Rather than moving the fair to a new location, Woodward suggests efforts could be made to restore the fair’s excitement.
“I would like to see a greater partnership between the counties, chambers and cities,” Woodward said. “We need to really highlight it as a great state event.”
But, Stille concedes that the fair needs a new location to increase people’s interest in coming.
“The fact is the fair is losing popularity,” Stille said. “If we are to save the fair it probably needs a better chance to succeed.”
Justin Catcho, a student from Shelby Township agrees that a move may be necessary to improve the fair. Catcho attended the fair one time and had a good time when he was younger.
“I grew up in the Detroit area and it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Catcho said. “It seems kind of unsafe.”
Stille suggests combining something with the Ag Expo at Michigan State University. The Ag Expo is held in June and has an attendance of 30,000 people.
“Compare 30,000 people at the Ag Expo to 400,000 people that come to the Michigan State Fair,” Wyant said. “Thirty thousand people is an enormous event for agriculture, but is it going to satisfy the demand for our State Fair?”
Wyant said a possible move to East Lansing is something that needs to be looked into. He also wonders, however, if MSU is interested in hosting the fair.
MSU has been “lukewarm” regarding the possible site location of the fair, Stille said.
“There are so many unknowns, the costs and developments needed,” Stille said. “Until all that has been defined I wouldn’t say ‘yes’ either.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ALLISON MIRIANI