By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
As fair board members recapped the 2004 Great Northern Fair on Tuesday, they declared the event a success but also considered a number of changes for next year.
Though the fair experienced good weather and large crowds, the revenue from the carnival was down nearly 10 percent this year, fair manager Tim Solomon said. The fair's share of the carnival's income was $35,500 - about $4,000 less than last year, he said.
The overall revenue for the 2004 Great Northern Fair has not been determined as the fair board is waiting for reports from food booths and is tallying income from night shows, Solomon said this morning.
During a meeting Tuesday night, board members discussed ways to boost the fair's income next year, including penalizing food booths for closing early, charging carnival employees for camping on fairground property and rescheduling some events to maximize audiences.
Revenues from the carnival were lower than expected this year, though fair board members couldn't say why.
The Great Northern Fair receives a share of the profits from the carnival each year. Receipts for the first two days of the fair were promising, but interest in the carnival seemed to drop off later in the week, Solomon said.
"We started out good and then we went downhill," he said.
In total, the carnival grossed about $3,000 less than last year. The fair saw its share of the income shrink by about $4,000.
The fair also lost money because some food booths closed early, Solomon said. During Tuesday's meeting, fair board members expressed frustration with several food booths. One, the Vikings booth sponsored by Montana State University-Northern football program, was closed for most of the weekend after it ran out of supplies.
"I went out on Saturday and they were putting their (closed) sign up," said fair board member Alma Seidel.
"They do it every year," Solomon said, adding that booths that close early deprive the fair of income.
"We need to address it," he said. "Those are prime spots we could have made revenue off of."
The board voted to change the contracts with food booths to include a penalty of $250 a day for those booths that are not open during the agreed-upon hours.
Solomon said he was also concerned about "an unspoken understanding" that carnival employees are allowed to camp out on fairground property for free during the fair.
On at least one campsite, he said, carnival employees tampered with electrical boxes to allow more than one camper to draw electricity off a single outlet.
"My concern is the amount of electricity they're pulling off it, and there's nothing in writing that says they get to use it for free," Solomon said. "My personal feeling is we're losing revenue."
Carnival employees occupied 13 camping spaces during the fair. Other campers are charged $20 a night to use the spots.
Solomon said he believes the fair board should charge carnival employees for using the spaces, adding that the fair's percentage of carnival profits has decreased in recent years.
During the meeting Tuesday, board members also discussed the success of each of the night shows held during the fair.
The rodeo went well, attracting more than 1,000 people on Saturday night and about 550 on Sunday, Solomon said.
"They ran a nice quick show," he said of the group contracted to host the rodeo. As in previous years, the fair hired contractor Ike Sankey for the 2004 Great Northern Fair.
Despite a good turnout, the fair still lost money on the event, Solomon said.
"We haven't figured it all out, but we're definitely behind," he said, adding that the rodeo would have to sell out both nights for the fair to break even.
That prompted fair board members to discuss raising ticket prices or hiring a different rodeo contractor.
It is possible that another contractor would be less expensive and be able to host the rodeo on different nights, Solomon said. Ideally, it would be switched to Friday and Saturday, so that the demolition derby could be held on Sunday to draw bigger crowds, Solomon said.
"It may be worth looking into other contractors," he told the board.
The fair's free show was a success, with magician Jeff Martin receiving good reviews from both audience and fair board members.
"He definitely was a good entertainer," Solomon said. "We got a lot out of it for what we paid."
In addition to performing throughout the fair, Martin also emceed the fair's first-ever talent show and performed at the Eagles Manor and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line.
A new event, a sand dragging and dirt bike competition called Motor Mania, also went well, fair board members said.
"After the trucks started and you could hear those engines, you could just see people flock to it," said board member Lynn Dolphay.
Solomon said he expects Motor Mania to do well next year because audiences will know what to expect.
The demolition derby and school displays also were successful, according to board members.
"We had a few teachers who hadn't displayed in a while and a few new ones as well," Seidel said.
The 4-H events went especially well, said fair board member Steve Faber. Not only were the animals well-behaved, but they also brought in more money than in previous years, he said.
Sunday "was the icing on the cake," he said, as the sale of animals grossed more than $133,000, compared with $97,000 last year.
Faber attributed the success to the fact that swamp coolers were brought in to keep the barn cool, and that the sales went quicker than in previous years.
During Tuesday's meeting, fair board members were asked to consider allowing FAA groups to hold animal judging and showmanship events during the fair. Numerous 4-H groups participate each year, but the fair does not include any FAA-sanctioned events.
Big Sandy teacher Bud Robinson said expanding the events to include FAA youngsters would allow more youths to participate and generate more revenue for the fair. Robinson said FAA groups from Great Falls, Conrad, Shelby, Malta and Chinook would likely attend the event.
"It will bring in more income and make the fair that much bigger," he said. "It will help the community because a lot of them will probably be staying the night. Bringing in all those extra kids for that day would really boost the booths and the carnival."
The fair board took no action on Robinson's request, and told him to present the idea to the Livestock Board during its September meeting.