A Spot in the Shade
Sheltering Structures for the Traveling Entertainment Industry
Rain and wind are not the only weather elements that can dampen attendance at a state fair. Sun and heat can also prompt fair guests to cut their visits short. In recent years, state fairs have looked to both natural and temporary shading structures to shield their visitors from the elements making it more probable that they will enjoy the fairs for longer periods of time.
The 200-acre Wisconsin State Fair Park can be a hot place when the fair is in town in late August. This year, the fair welcomed almost 1 million visitors as well as 200 food vendors and 700 commercial vendors. The food at the Wisconsin State Fair is historically important and this year, the fair broke the Guinness World Record for the largest creampuff and the largest cheese sculpture. With so much emphasis on food and eating, fair organizers want to make sure visitors are comfortable in the hot summer sun.
“We work with our vendors who have room to add picnic tables with umbrella shading so our guests are comfortable,” said Jen Puente, sponsorship manager for the fair. “Many of our permanent vendors, especially those who offer stage entertainment, either have covered seating areas or erect tents adjacent to their establishments. Some vendors place tables and chairs underneath tents or use picnic tables with umbrellas to provide shade. For the open areas, we often collaborate work with current fair partners or sponsors to add additional coverage, or in some cases, we fund coverage directly in places where we know there will be a high level of sun exposure.”
In 2011, the Wisconsin State Fair added additional shaded areas as part of their efforts to increase “creature comforts” for fairgoers. Mattress Firm, who was a second-year sponsor, provided funding that allowed the fair to erect a tent in the Central Mall area that shelters a number of food venders who do not have any room between themselves and their neighboring vendor to have a covered eating area.
“The tent had picnic tables that created new seating for about 150 people,” Puente noted. “The area was continuously full as our guests sat down to eat, drink or just take a break from the sun.”
U.S. Cellular, who presented the Wisconsin State Fair, also created a new area called the U.S. Cellular Terrace, which is located outside the Wisconsin Exhibition Center.
“This area would have been fully exposed to the sun and other weather conditions had we not worked with them to create sun shades with attractive picnic tables underneath,” she said. “U.S. Cellular also brought in an air conditioned trailer and the branded sun shades sheltered an additional 50 to 100 people.”
The Wisconsin State Fair rented a large, open-air tent to provide coverage for those watching shows at the Wilderness Resort Family Variety Stage. The fair also purchased a permanent canopy with a steel frame but removable canvas shade that provides coverage for a few sections of seating where the sun exposure is greatest at the fair’s Subs Cousins Amphitheater.
As Executive Vice President of Costa Mesa, Calif.-based FabriTec, a brand of USA Shade & Fabric Structures, Inc., Gary Haymann has overseen many projects where shade and shelter is essential for success. The company, which does everything in-house, from engineering and design to construction, provided shade structures for the Texas State Fair.
For its work with the Texas State Fair, FabriTec has replaced structures that capsized due to snowfall and erected new structures in the Midway of the State Fair where all food vendors are placed.
“We design and construct the structures according to engineering standards and building codes,” said Haymann. “We worked with the Texas State Fair in a two-phase project. During the first phase, we constructed 68 custom shade structures and in the second phase 46. The structures definitely keep fair visitors comfortable, which makes them want to stay and enjoy all that the fair has to offer.”
As Assistant Construction Manager for the Minnesota State Fair, Sean Casey oversees the comfort of more than 1.7 million people who visit the 320-acre fair for the 12 days leading up to Labor Day weekend each year.
“We do get hot in the summer especially the end of August when the fair opens and we want our guests to be comfortable and to stay and enjoy all the vendors and attractions.”
The Minnesota State Fair is fortunate in that it is situated on mature grounds, which means a great deal of natural shading. On the fair grounds, there are more than 700 ash and elm trees and about 500 other trees of mixed variety.
“We are very lucky to have all the trees because they do provide a great deal of comfort to our guests. Ash and Elm offer wonderful natural sun protection, but still they are not enough,” Casey noted. “We try to have our seating areas by the trees, but we also have shade cloth near areas where there is no natural shading. Some of the shading lets in 60 percent of sunlight and others are non-transparent vinyl that blocks out 100 percent. We usually put the non-transparent vinyl in the area with the stage where people sit to watch entertainment.”
Casey also employs large Sunbrellas® in the food court areas as much as possible.
“We can never have enough shading or seating,” he explained. “If we want the guests to spend the day with us, they have to be comfortable.”
This year, Casey and the construction staff created a permanent shade structure for the fair’s stage area. It covers the audience and lets them enjoy the shows.
“It used to be that the audience would sit as far away from the stage as possible to avoid the sun that was beating down. The performers could not tell who was enjoying the show,” Casey said. “Now, with the new shade structure, the audience sits close to the stage and the entire show is enjoyable for both audience and performers.”
The Maryland State Fair welcomed more than 400,000 visitors this year. The attendance was a bit down due to the fact that Maryland was hit by an earthquake and Hurricane Irene, all within a week of the opening of the fair, which runs during the last 11 days of August and offers visitors food, rides, livestock competitions and live horse racing.
“We want to make our visitors as comfortable as possible,” said Max Mosner, the president and general manager of the fair, who has been with the organization since 1963.
“We have an area that is our food court where we put sunscreen cloth to give people some shade from the summer sun,” he said. “There is also a permanent pavilion with tables and chairs and benches scattered around where people can rest. The horse races, which are a big draw, have a grandstand area that is completely covered as well. We understand that shading and comfort is needed, and we provide as much as we can for our guests.”
Mosner said that the state fair staff examine issues such as shading each year and work to add more.
“We are so conscious of the comfort and safety of our fair guests. Whenever we can add shading we will. We have not started to use misters for the heat, but that is something we think about too. This year was a different year for us in that we had the earthquake and hurricane so close to the fair, so we contacted the Maryland Safety and Occupational Health Department and asked them to inspect everything for us. We want people to come and enjoy the fair and always be comfortable and at ease when they are here.” –