BANGOR, Maine — Organizers of the Bangor State Fair plan to institute a pay-one-price model this year in an effort to revive interest in the event, which has seen attendance decrease for four consecutive years.
Bass Park Director Mike Dyer presented the idea this week to members of the City Council’s finance committee, who largely supported the idea but also cautioned that the fair could use even more new ideas.
“It kind of went the way we thought it would,” Dyer said of the discussion. “We wanted to give councilors the opportunity to give opinions on changes. From our perspective, there is always that tug between bringing in something new and meeting people’s expectations.”
Pending City Council approval, the new flat admission price for the Bangor State Fair would be $10. That price would include gate admission, unlimited rides and admission to all shows and attractions. The fare would not include games or food and drinks.
Last year’s admission was $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $3 for children ages 12 and younger, but those rates did not include rides.
Dyer said patrons historically have been willing to spend money on rides, but spending on food and games has declined. If rides are included in admission, he said, attendants might be more inclined to spread their money around.
“At first glance, this looks great,” Councilor Pat Blanchette said of the proposal. “It could be a huge success.”
The fair, in its 160th year, last offered a pay-one-price model in 1993, and attendance that year eclipsed 90,000, according to Dyer. In recent years, however, attendance has dwindled. The fair attracted 65,000 visitors in 2005 and dropped to just 42,000 last year. Dyer said poor weather was at least partially to blame for the 2008 drop-off, but he recognized that business-as-usual would not work for 2009.
Councilor Hal Wheeler, looking at the dwindling numbers, wondered whether the fair will continue to be economically viable much longer.
“I think this council needs to be thinking about the practical value of continuing this fair,” he said.
Bangor contracts with Fiesta Shows, a New Hampshire-based company, to put on the state fair each year. Profit from the fair is split between the city and Fiesta. As attendance has dropped, so have the proceeds to Fiesta and to the city.
The net payments to Fiesta have dropped from $265,000 in 2005 to $198,000 last year. For the first time in five years, the city actually lost a small amount of money after making as much as $68,000 in 2005.
E.J. Dean, representing Fiesta Shows, said Bangor is not alone in its economic concerns.
“Every fair that we’re involved with is looking at how can we help the public,” he said. “This is a good step.”
Other councilors, such as Rick Bronson, agreed the pay-one-price model is a good start, but he suggested that the fair might need a dramatic shake-up in terms of attractions.
“It has to be a must-see event,” Bronson said.
Council chairman Gerry Palmer said he’s not above making some changes, but he agreed that patrons have come to expect certain things.
“People are always looking for good entertainment at a good price,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a great year.”
This year’s fair will run from July 31 through Aug. 9.