State Fair Postmortem: NYSF Director Discusses Successes and Challenges of 2018

Sep 6, 2018

The Midway landscape is deconstructed as rides are dismantled.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

The director of the New York State Fair has a lot to look back upon now that the event is finished.  Yes, this year’s fair broke attendance records.  And yes, there were the new renovations of the fairgrounds.  And yes, Troy Waffner was finally named Official Director of the Fair after five years as Acting Director.

After all that, though, he doesn’t get to rest.

“Cleaning up the grounds, that’ll take a week or so. Everybody thinks we take the week after off, but we have 1,700 employees that have to get paid, a million dollars in purchasing that has to be paid. Labor Day comes, the fair ends, and everybody shows up again on Tuesday.”

He does get a chance to reflect back on specific programming, such as the theme days.

Empty sheep stables at the fairgrounds.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

“Adopt a Dog Day, Bike to the Fair Day, City Market comes in for an event, Grape Day, Maple Day, all those types of events. We did a lot of those this year and some of them we’ll continue to do and some of them we’ll take off just because it was kind of a one year event. I think those worked well. Well, It takes a huge toll on staff, it takes time. I think the fair-goers liked them. What we’re trying to do is give somebody a reason every day to come back so they can see something different.”

Certainly attendance is a basic mark of success – the fair overall topped One-Point-

"What we're trying to do is give somebody a reason every day to come back so they can see something different."

Two Million visitors.  Waffner is trying to make the crowd reflect the entire state.  

“Over the course of the fair I saw a greater amount of diversity than I’ve probably ever seen on the fairgrounds and it’s wonderful. From folks we see on New Americans’ Day, where we swear in 100 New Americans, to the Latino Village, the Latino Village, the Indian Village, the Pan-African Village, and then you add to it Pride Day. We really want the New York State Fair to be a reflection of New York State. And everybody is included in that.”

As you might imagine, he got his share of comments from fair-goers, from praise for the renovations to complaints – with one standing out.

“Since we’ve grown above a million people consistently, parking has become an issue. We work at solving it every year and people are still upset. When will fill every lot we have and then the park-and-rides, it takes an hour to get on a bus and I absolutely that it’s unacceptable and we continue to work towards working to solve those problems.”

Some vendors were still not happy with their locations … and people want more trees and more shade.  On the other hand, he says the new Expo Center was a big hit.  And coupled with other changes, he can see more and more business – both during the state fair and all year.

Empty Chevy Court, where more than 30,000 fair-goers crowded to watch concerts.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

“Some of them are just expansions of shows. The farm show is always the one I use – they’ll take over that building and have over 400,000 square feet and probably be the largest farm show east of the Mississippi. Then you have just other shows, like RV shows. RV rallies are big, where people come and they stay in an RV and they need a commercial space, to really just food festivals and stuff like that. There are marketplace type shows that have previously bypassed Syracuse because there wasn’t enough square footage.”

Waffner says the task of seeing what worked and what problems need to be addressed will go on most of the month.  In the meantime, the fairground staff have more activities to plan, including events in the Expo Center – which officials say is more than half-booked already for 2019.