MAHONEY STATE PARK, Neb. — Nebraska's State Fair would be bigger, bolder and busier in five years if a new crop of brainstorming ideas takes root.
Among the proposals is a world-class equine facility, a second aerial tram, a second food and commercial vendor area and an amphitheater and stage.
The fair also would be widely recognized as a global epicenter of agricultural education, a pioneer in agricultural innovation and a source of family entertainment — all cloaked in Nebraska pride — if dreams materialize.
The State Fair Board and staff viewed a conceptual map Friday of how the fairgrounds at Fonner Park in Grand Island might look in 2018.
The presentation was part of an exercise by the board and staff to develop a five-year plan and imagine the future of the fair during a retreat at Mahoney State Park near Ashland.
The workshop was long overdue, said Jana Kruger of Arlington, board chairwoman.
“We've really just been flying by the seat of our pants since moving (the fair) to Grand Island,” Kruger said. “We've struggled with funding in Lincoln, and now we finally got it and it's important to define a vision that endures.”
Board member Ed Kruse of Kimball said concerts and carnivals pay the fair's bills, but agriculture and education are the mission.
Beth Birnstihl of Lincoln, the director of National 4-H Council education programs, led the retreat. She said the fair board's goals are not out of reach.
A decade ago, the fair teetered on bankruptcy. In 2004, voters approved a constitutional amendment to devote a portion of Nebraska Lottery revenue to the fair. In 2007, the Legislature decided to move the fair to Grand Island to make room in Lincoln for a research campus associated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The fair has been in Grand Island since 2010. This year's fair attracted nearly 335,000 people over 11 days.
“Who could have dreamed these big dreams?'' Birnstihl said. “We're continuing that dream.''
Tam Allan, a board member from Lincoln, presented a conceptual map showing a new horse barn, practice arena and show arena south of the horse racetrack.
The map also showed an expanded boulevard linking the east side of the fairgrounds to the current core near the Heartland Events Center. The new aerial tramway would travel over the boulevard along the south side of the racetrack.
A new marketplace at the east side would feature food and commercial vendors. An amphitheater and stage would be built nearby.
Allan said the conceptual draft was developed in close cooperation with Fonner Park. No funds are in hand for the proposals yet.
Birnstihl said the state fair will never be the nation's largest because of Nebraska's low population, “but we have something else to offer.''