116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Last year’s Iowa State Fair was canceled for the first time since World War II because of the coronavirus pandemic. And although health officials worry about new increases in COVID-19 cases despite the widespread availability of a free vaccine, the fair is set to return Aug. 12 -22 this year at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
Gary Slater, chief executive officer of the Iowa State Fair, recently spoke with The Gazette about what’s new at the fairgrounds this year and how the event came together after a tumultuous year.
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Q: Is there anything new coming to the fair this year people should look forward to?
A: Oh, absolutely. We had four different construction projects that were going in 2019 and were slated for improvements to be on tap for the 2020 fair. Those things were in motion about the time COVID started, so we were able to go ahead and finish those up, even though we didn’t have the fair of 2020.
Even though they’ve been finished for a while, they’re new because we haven’t had a fair since they were here. Probably the biggest one and the one that we’re most proud of is the renovation of the historic 4-H Building. The 4-H Building is on the southwest corner of our grounds. The building is 70-plus years old and really hadn’t had a whole lot of renovation to it in all of those years. So the Jacobson Trust Foundation was able to give us a donation along with the state infrastructure fund, so we were able to renovate that building, and we’re really excited about that.
Q: Was the planning process for the fair different this year, planning during a pandemic?
A: I guess the word would be exhausting because we planned probably four or five different versions of the fair over the last year and a half. Since we canceled the 2020 fair in June of last year, we were gearing up for what we would need to do to make sure that we can have a fair in 2021.
In the end, as the vaccination rate goes up and the incidence of the virus has gone down, overall, throughout the winter, spring, and now, early summer, we were able to have a fair that is probably as close to normal as any event in Central Iowa this summer.
We will still emphasize the fact that if you want to wear masks, you’re certainly welcome to. We will encourage people to socially distance when they’re waiting in lines and things like that — I think we’re all used to that now and we do that automatically.
We’ll have our hand sanitizer units scattered throughout the grounds. We’ve added 40 to 50 of those throughout the grounds from what we used to have. We’ve also added regular hand washing stations, and of course, we have restrooms, where you can wash your hands with soap and water throughout the grounds. Those are the things that we’re working on, but largely the fair will be as you have known it in the past.
Q: After a year away, what are you most looking forward to at the fair this year?
A: The Iowa State Fair is not only an event where you come because you love the food, because you love the livestock competition, because you love the midway rides or looking at all of the exhibits that are put up there. I know everybody has those individual things.
But really, Iowans come to the Iowa State Fair because they love the fact that we live in Iowa. We love living in Iowa, and we celebrate that with coming to the Iowa State Fair and we all come together those 11 days in August. I think that’s just a thing that we missed out on last year, and I’m excited that we can go ahead and do that again this year.
Of course I left out the wonderful entertainment, but we’ve got some of the best grandstand entertainment this year that we’ve ever had.
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