What’s new at the California Mid-State Fair

Michael Bradley, the new CEO of the Mid-State Fair, leads a tour of the fair Friday, pointing out work to set up the Crazy Mouse, which he said is the fair’s oldest ride.
Michael Bradley, the new CEO of the Mid-State Fair, leads a tour of the fair Friday, pointing out work to set up the Crazy Mouse, which he said is the fair’s oldest ride. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

After seven decades of livestock competitions, concerts and carnival rides, the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles must still work to remain relevant, new CEO Michael Bradley said.

That’s especially true at a time when there are so many things competing for consumers’ attention and money.

“We have baby boomers who are aging, and we have the rest of the younger generation that will be coming forward,” Bradley said. “How do we address their needs? How do we address their values?”

The 71st annual California Mid-State Fair kicks off Wednesday at the Paso Robles Event Center and runs through July 31. Last year, more than 428,000 people flocked to the fairgrounds, fair officials said, continuing steady gains in both attendance and concert revenue.

What’s in store

Bradley, who began his tenure as fair CEO in May, said he hopes to attract even more fairgoers this year with a mix of fresh and familiar offerings.

In addition to Tuesday night’s Miss California Mid-State Fair pageant and concerts by the likes of Blake Shelton, Fergie and Hollywood Vampires, attractions at the fair this summer include two new rodeo events: Fiesta Del Charro, a Mexican-style rodeo competition that features traditional charros (cowboys) and live Mexican music, and Extreme Team Rodeo, which finds performers leaping over charging bulls, bouncing on a giant teeter-totter and flying through the air on freestyle motocross bikes.

While Extreme Team Rodeo will appeal to fairgoers’ wild side, Bradley said Fiesta del Charro will interest traditionalists and those interested in rodeo history.

“It’s a beautiful presentation,” he said. “It’s dynamic. It’s highly entertaining.”

Both events are scheduled for July 31 at the Chumash Grandstand Arena.

Animal lovers are the target audience of the daily K-9 Kings Flying Dog Show, which features canine athletes performing acrobatic tricks. This year also sees the return of the famed Budweiser Clydesdales, the horses featured in commercials by the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co.

For folks in search of more sedate entertainment, the fair has teamed up with Templeton’s Three Speckled Hens, which organizes antique shows around the area, for the Rummage Race featuring restored items. The winners will be on display and on sale at the Frontier Pavilion.

In store at Estrella Hall is the California Craft Spirits Competition, featuring distillers from around the state.

Artisan liquor is “a very hot item in the millennial world, and it’s very big in this region,” Bradley said.

Fair finances

Bradley, who came aboard after Vivian Robertson retired as fair CEO in January, said the fairgrounds is seeking to stay financially afloat in the face of ever-increasing costs and an aging facility.

Bradley said the California Mid-State Fair, also known as the 16th District Agricultural Association, operates on an annual budget of $10 million that funds personnel, entertainment and maintenance, among other things. About 90 percent of that revenue is generated during the fair’s 12-day run or is directly associated with the fair, Bradley said.

Although the fair falls under the auspices of the state Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Fairs & Expositions and pays state fees, Bradley said it does not receive state funding.

“We’re self-supporting,” he said.

With a goal of growth in mind, the CEO plans to intensify fair officials’ efforts to use the fairgrounds year-round and develop a strategic plan for its future.

“The fair has not developed ever, as far as I can tell, a physical master plan in its history,” Bradley said.

And it’s in need of a strategic plan of operation as well, he said. Bradley will meet with the fair’s board of directors in September to discuss the matter; a strategic plan will be formalized by the winter.

Specifically, Bradley and his staff hope to learn how to better use their base of operations.

“How do we make the Paso Robles Event Center a better source of revenue for us and a better community gift as well?” he asked, describing the fairgrounds as the largest facility in San Luis Obispo County in terms of outdoor and indoor square footage.

Specifically, he said, the event center could host a variety of events — such as trade shows, business conferences, equestrian events, and food, wine and lifestyle events — when the fair is not in session. He said the venue is ideally suited for “midweek meetings with 300 to 500 people in attendance.”

Although the fair isn’t reaching out to specific markets yet, Bradley said obvious targets include agribusiness, energy, education, technology and the food and beverage industry, as well as community development and small-business groups.

He’s also open to bringing more concerts and other entertainment to the Paso Robles Event Center.

New projects

Meanwhile, two major projects are in the works at the fairgrounds.

A new 67,000-square-foot, free-span structure will replace three hog barns and two equestrian barns at the far north end of the fairgrounds, Bradley said. The multiuse facility will be used to exhibit and house livestock during the fair, he added, and be open to other events such as car or quilt shows in the interim.

Initially, the new structure will be open-air with a dirt floor, but it eventually will be enclosed with a concrete or asphalt floor and air conditioning.

The fair also is working on restructuring seating in the Chumash Grandstand Arena, where major concerts and rodeos are held. Two large bleacher units on the east side of the venue on either side of the stage “will be reoriented so they swing in and give a better view of the stage,” Bradley said, adding that the number of seats available in the arena — 14,857 — will remain the same.

Bradley wouldn’t share the estimated cost of the projects, saying the fair is “in the middle of bidding and negotiation.” The Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to enrich and preserve the heritage of the fair and showcase local agriculture, will fund the livestock facility, whereas the fair will pay for the grandstand improvements, he said.

Construction on both projects begins in the fall and is expected to be completed by next summer in time for the 2017 fair.

Bradley said he’s optimistic about what’s ahead for the California Mid-State Fair, which this year is embracing the theme “The Adventure Continues …”

“This fair has a phenomenal history,” Bradley said. And, he added, “it has a great future.”

California Mid-State Fair

When: Noon to midnight, Wednesday through July 31

Where: Paso Robles Event Center, 2198 Riverside Ave., Paso Robles

How much: Daily admission is $10, or $8 for seniors and $6 for children ages 6 to 12; season passes are $50, or $20 for children ages 6 to 12; younger kids get in free. Carnival wristbands cost $35. Parking is $10 to $15. Concert ticket prices vary.

Discounts: Discounted advance tickets and carnival wristbands can be purchased through Tuesday at local Vons and Albertsons stores. Those tickets are $7.25, or $6.25 for seniors and $5.25 for kids. Wristbands are $25.25 at Vons and Albertsons or $25 at the fair box office. Discounts on season tickets are $40 or $15 for kids with a coupon from Farm Supply that must be redeemed at the fair box office by Tuesday.

Theme days: Cattlemen’s and Farmer’s Day (Thursday), Kid’s Day (July 25), Senior’s Day (July 26), Armed Forces Day (July 30)

Info: 800-909-FAIR (3247) or www.midstatefair.com