Fair tries to rejuvenate tradition after tragedy
A memorial to the seven killed in the Aug. 13, 2011 stage collapse during a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair, goes virtually unnoticed by fair visitors on opening day of the 2012 run of the State Fair in Indianapolis, Aug. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana State Fair that opened Friday is trying to shake off the emotional and economic shadow of last year's deadly stage collapse, pumping up the event's appeal in hopes of drawing back crowds whose faith in the annual tradition was shaken by the tragedy.
Stage rigging fell onto a crowd waiting for the country duo Sugarland to take the stage as high winds slashed through the city ahead of an approaching storm last Aug. 13. Seven people died and dozens more were injured, including some who are still struggling to recover.
The collapse sparked months of investigations and lawsuits amid questions about why the show wasn't canceled or postponed. In the year since, fair officials have made sweeping changes to their safety procedures and changed the organization's management structure. Lawmakers passed a bill requiring state inspections of such temporary structures.
Fair officials and vendors hope it's enough to bring people back to rebuild fond memories of an event many liken to a family reunion.
"I think it's a good idea to bring people back out and let them know the fair is a safe place," said Chris Tincher of Corydon, whose family has been bringing its deep-fried candy stand to the fair for about 50 years.
Still, the impact of last year's collapse is evident even beyond the memorial plaque outside the grandstand that honors the seven people killed.
Ticket prices are up and a new parking fee has been implemented as officials try to recover from a steep drop in revenue after the collapse, which forced the fair to cancel several big concerts and close for a day. Attendance was down 8 percent from 2010, and the fair's overall revenue fell from $11.9 million in 2010 to $8.38 million in 2011.
A visitor to the Indiana State Fair on opening day sends a text on his phone beside the memorial to the seven killed in the Aug. 13, 2011 stage collapse during a Sugarland concert at the fair in Indianapolis, Aug. 3, 2012. The memorial was virtually unnoticed by fair visitors. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
This year's headline concerts, which include shows from Barry Manilow, Train and Blake Shelton, have been moved to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. That takes people — and the money they'd spend at the fair — off the fairgrounds for events that typically are big draws.