New York Fairgrounds Seeks Management Firm

Help sought in booking shows for facilities, including new expo center

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: January 10, 2018

A $62 million expo center is set to open at the New York State Fairgrounds in August.

Changes abound at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, where a new $62-million, state-funded expo center is slated to open in August. Now the facility needs a management company to keep the fairgrounds a viable year-round destination.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a request for proposals last month, seeking a “private company to book events at the New York State Fairgrounds, anchored by the new Expo Center,” according to the RFP. Proposals are due to the governor’s office Jan. 31.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets runs the fairgrounds and hosts the 13-day Great New York State Fair in late August through early September each year. The RFP specifically states the new management company will be charged with event booking during the “non-fair” season.

Fairgrounds officials and the governor’s office thought it was important to have a full-time entity working on bookings, said Troy Waffner, acting director of the New York State Fair.

“We book all the nonfair shows ourselves, currently. We don’t dedicate all our time to it. We really wanted to find a company that can book on a regional or a national level,” Waffner said.

In years past, Waffner and staff hired outside companies to book bands at the state fair, but this is the first time the fairgrounds has sought a full-time management company for non-fair events.

Before releasing the RFP, the governor assigned a task force to evaluate how to make the fairgrounds a year-round destination, said Joanie Mahoney, county executive for Onondaga County in New York.

“We just started hearing what works in other fairgrounds across the country,” Mahoney said, noting that Charlie Smith, senior principal at architecture firm Populous, provided advice on the project before it went to the designer.

He helped the task force conclude that hiring a management company was a good idea.

Smith sees a growing trend in fairgrounds hiring companies like Spectra and SMG and encourages clients to look at the opportunity because of “the buying power and the predesigned expertise that they offer,” he said.

He did not know which companies may have already responded to the RFP, but employees at the New York State Fairgrounds are looking forward to the help of an outside business, Waffner said.

The fairgrounds, sitting on 375 acres next to a bustling interstate system, saw a jump in non-fair events last year. In 2017, the fairgrounds hosted 189 privately operated events, up 16 percent from 2016. The nonfair events saw a huge boost in attendance, drawing 832,048 people in 2017, up 57 percent from roughly 529,000 in 2016.

The fairgrounds is in phase two of a multiyear $133 million revitalization that includes the 136,000-square-foot expo center, now under construction. It will have 110,000 square feet of flexible event space with 4,000 retractable seats.

HBP Joint Venture — a partnership between Syracuse-based Hueber Breuer Construction Co. and Rochester-based The Pike Co. — was awarded the design contract, and QPK Design of Syracuse is the design architect.

The fairgrounds upgrades are a part of a much bigger project from the governor’s office called Central New York Rising, in which the state is investing nearly $500 million in the economic growth of New York communities.

With more than half a million square feet of covered event space on the fairgrounds, Waffner thinks the fairgrounds has huge booking potential.

Fresh paint and new facades on buildings, a new midway, a new RV park and a newly paved and repainted 65-acre parking lot all were included in the first phase of renovation. Money also went toward fixing underground drainage to prevent flooding in the parking lots along with other upgrades, Mahoney said.

“We had wires on the ground when shows came. There would be wires duct taped to the ground. Now all of that infrastructure is buried,” she said.

A 17,500-capacity concert venue called Lakeview Amphitheater opened across from the fairgrounds in 2015. It’s owned by the county and works in conjunction with fairground events, Mahoney said.

“They can schedule country music at the amphitheater for after an event at the fairgrounds,” she said. “As soon as this [expo center] is open, I think we’re going to be full speed ahead without looking back.”

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: January 10, 2018