May 28--For now, state fairgoers are all about Hunter Hayes.
The 22-year-old country singer is well ahead of the other grandstand acts in ticket sales, and fair officials are hoping the 101st year of the Kansas State Fair will be just as big as the centennial celebration.
Tickets went on sale for all grandstand concerts three weeks ago, said Fair Manager Denny Stoecklein. About 1,500 tickets have sold so far for Hayes' Sept. 6 concert in the 9,600-seat grandstand. Other top sellers include classic rock group Cheap Trick with 423 tickets and classic country singers Sawyer Brown with Aaron Tippin at 460.
Hayes isn't Toby Keith, who sold more than 8,000 tickets to end last year's 100th birthday celebration, said Stoecklein, but he added, "Hunter Hayes is doing well."
Keith had sold about 2,600 tickets by mid-May.
Hayes' guarantee is $200,000 -- one of the more expensive acts in the past few years. So far, Stoecklein said, ticket sales to Hayes' concert have met 30 percent of the guarantee to bring him to Hutchinson. In all, tickets are covering about 26 percent of the fair's cost for all concerts, with roughly 4,000 tickets sold to date.
Hayes, a singer and songwriter, has been singing professionally since he was in preschool, performing the song "Jambalaya" with Hank Williams Jr. at age 4. As a youngster, he also played with Johnny and June Cash, appeared with Robert Duvall in "The Apostle" and performed for President Bill Clinton.
In the past two years, Hayes has had two No. 1 singles: "Wanted" and "Somebody's Heartbreak." Other top 20 hits include "I Want Crazy" and "Storm Warning."
Grandstand ticket sales were one item fair board members learned about at their annual retreat last week in Manhattan, Stoecklein said. The board also discussed efforts to increase the social media and marketing presence in an effort to grow fair attendance. That includes a mailing to several hundred churches about Christian acts Matthew West and Cloverton, which will play in the grandstand on Sept. 10.
State still delinquent
Meanwhile, fair board members also discussed the state's added boost in this year's budget.
Gov. Sam Brownback in early May approved in his budget $400,000 for the fair's capital improvement fund, Stoecklein said. However, the match, $100,000 more than required, only slightly narrows the state's shortfall to the fair. All told, the state still owes the fair $1.28 million that state lawmakers have failed to match over the years despite a state statute mandating it.
The fair put $300,000 in its capital improvement budget for fiscal 2014 and is not required to meet the $400,000.
According to state law, the Legislature is required to match the fair, for up to $300,000 annually, in its capital improvement fund. Money goes toward building upkeep and maintenance. Yet despite being a statutory requirement, the state has failed to make the match five times since approving the fair's master plan for major renovations and construction across the grounds in 2001.
No matter, Stoecklein said; with the fund growing, officials plan to begin small projects across the grounds to help with needed upkeep. That includes landscaping, renovations in both the milking barn and the animal birthing center, and replacing a light pole on the grounds.
During the retreat, long-term plans also were discussed, although Stoecklein said there is no funding source at this time.
The Expo Center, used for horse shows and other events, is just one of the updates fair officials would like to begin in coming years. Estimates last fall put building construction at $4.75 million to $5.5 million.
Meanwhile, an architect estimated an overhaul to the Bison Arena at $7 million, which would turn the 1930s-era arena into an agriculture technology showcase with the help of the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
The Bison Arena project grew out of retreat discussion last year. Stoecklein said the hope is to lay out a plan that would include details from funding to goals for project completion.
"What kind of funding formula do we need, what's a timeline and goal to get something accomplished?" Stoecklein said. "It's still on the table. We're still working with the Department of Ag to make it happen."
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