Updated: August 17, 2012 6:57AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Visitors to next month’s Indiana State Fair will face higher gate admission prices and a first-ever parking charge as the fair returns after taking a financial hit in the wake of last year’s deadly stage collapse.
Fair Executive Director Cynthia Hoye and Board Chairman Andre Lacy said the price hikes will pay for increased attractions at this year’s fair, including more free concerts at the fairgrounds, lumberjack and extreme sport shows and other events. They said they’re confident the added attractions will keep attendance and revenue up at this year’s fair.
Gate admission has risen from $8 to $10 — the first hike since 2006 — for the Aug. 3-19 fair. And The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that a first-time $5 charge has been imposed for parking inside the fairgrounds.
The higher gate prices and the parking charge aren’t geared to making up for the possibility of attendance and revenue losses due to fewer headline concerts and moving those shows from the fairgrounds to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, Hoye and Lacy said.
“We’ve programmed this fair differently than we’ve ever programmed it,” Hoye said. “We think we have a lot of attractions to draw people in.”
Officials had hoped attendance for last year’s fair would hit 1 million for the first time, but that was before stage rigging collapsed just before a scheduled Sugarland concert on Aug. 13, 2011, killing seven people and injuring dozens more. Several big concerts and events were subsequently canceled.
The 2011 Indiana State Fair drew 872,312 visitors, down 8 percent from the 952,020 that attended in 2010, fair officials said. As a result, the fair’s overall revenue fell from $11.9 million in 2010 to $8.38 million in 2011.
Despite the fee hikes, Indiana State Fair prices still stack up favorably against neighboring state fairs. Gate ticket prices are $7 at the Illinois State Fair and $10 at the Ohio and Kentucky state fairs. Parking is $5 at Ohio’s state fair, $7 at Illinois’, and $8 in Kentucky.
“We’re one of the most reasonably priced fairs of our caliber in the country,” fair spokesman Andy Klotz said.
He said the fair has several options for discounted tickets. Advanced-sale tickets remain $7 and, for the first time, fair officials are offering a three-day ticket for $18.
The fair shows that will be held at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse are Barry Manilow, Train with Matt Kearney and Andy Grammer, Journey/Pat Benatar/Loverboy, and Blake Shelton. In past years past, the headline shows combined usually drew more than 50,000 to the fair.
While fair officials are offering those concertgoers tickets for free fair admission on any day of the 17-day fair, one tourism expert doubts a majority of the tickets will be redeemed.
“In today’s world, people are busier and more tightly scheduled than ever. So I’m a little skeptical that people who go to those concerts will also go to the fair,” said Jay Gladden, dean of the School of Physical Education and Tourism Management at IUPUI.
But he said doesn’t expect fair attendance to be dented too badly by the concert movement or price increases.
“The state fair in Indiana has a very strong tradition,” Gladden said. “I think there is a large group of people who will attend to show support in light of what happened last year, and to show this is a great event the state takes enormous pride in.”