State Fair of Texas

Last updated
State Fair of Texas
State Fair of Texas Logo.svg
Genre State fair
DatesStarts last Friday of September and lasts 24 days.
25 September–18 October 2020.
Location(s)Fair Park
1300 Robert B Cullum Boulevard
Dallas, TX 75210
Years active1886–1916
since 1945
AttendanceNot Known [1]
Website Official website
An Open Letter to Board of Directors of the State Fair of Texas [2]
Commissioned byFoundation for Community Empowerment
PurposeA scathing rebuke of the fair, its operations, its impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, and potential mismanagement, corruption, and violation of its non-profit status.
A Great Park For A Great City [3]
Commissioned byFoundation for Community Empowerment
PurposeAn unflinching and long-view look at Fair Park, the State Fair, and how the relationship between the two embody so many of the challenges facing the city.
City of Dallas Audit [4]
Commissioned byCity of Dallas
PurposeThis audit found that the city was not monitoring how the fair was reinvesting its obligated contributions of excess revenues into Fair Park, and the investments the organization made in Fair Park were often limited to facilities it used during the run of the annual event.
State Fair of Texas Contract [5]
Commissioned by Dallas City Council
PurposeLatest version of the State Fair of Texas contract including December 2018 amendment.

The State Fair of Texas is an annual state fair with a controversial history [6] held in Dallas at historic Fair Park. The fair has taken place every year since 1886 except for varying periods during World War I and World War II. [7] It usually begins the last Friday in September and ends 24 days later. The fair claims to boast an annual attendance of over 2 million visitors through ticket scanning. [8] The State Fair of Texas is considered one of the best in America as well as Dallas's signature event although it has a long and troubled history. [9] [10] [11] [12]



Big Tex as seen during the fire on October 19, 2012 Big Tex fire.2 retouched.jpg
Big Tex as seen during the fire on October 19, 2012

The State Fair of Texas's opening day ceremonies are highlighted by the annual Friday parade rolling through downtown Dallas. [13] In 2019, the parade moved to Fair Park. [14] The fair also has a nightly parade called the Starlight Parade and a nightly light show called Illumination Sensation around the park's esplanade. [15] However, the start of the fair tends to be viewed by the residential neighbors in a negative light since the benefits are not seen to trickle down to them. [16] In fact, the blight created by the fair is so severe it depresses the real estate value of neighboring homes, which are already in a depressed neighborhood. [17] In addition, nearby businesses lose money while the fair is in session. [18]

Traditionally, the centerpiece of the fair has been the annual college football game between Oklahoma and Texas, nicknamed the Red River Rivalry (historically known as both the "OU-Texas Game" or "Texas-OU Game") and played in the Cotton Bowl at Fair Park. Also, the State Fair Classic, featuring Grambling State University and Prairie View A&M University, is played at the Cotton Bowl during the fair. In 2010, Baylor and Texas Tech played their game during the fair for the first time. During the opening weekend of the 2013 fair, Army and Louisiana Tech played in the only Heart of Dallas Classic at the Cotton Bowl; it was abandoned thereafter. The Texas State Fair Football Showdown took place on the third weekend of the 2018 and 2019 fair and featured Southern and Texas Southern. [19] In 2020, the Southern versus Texas Southern game is set to move to Arlington, Texas.

The State Fair of Texas is the only fair in the US to include a full auto show, dating back to 1913. [20] However, the Texas Museum of Automotive History was forced to pull out as a tenant who blames the fair for forcing it to close down during the annual event. [21]

The State Fair used to feature "Birds of the World" where several birds flew overhead. It was removed from the Fair lineup in 2014 and returned in 2019. The Texas Skyway is a gondola ride which only operates 24 days a year transports visitors around the fairgrounds. Its construction cost 5 million dollars. There is also a BMX bike show as well as dog and pig races. For children, puppet shows, Children's Medical Center Barnyard, and Story Time also take place inside the fair. [22]

In recent years, the fair has emphasized its reputation as an event featuring unique, albeit high-fat foods. It has been known for years for Fletcher's brand corny dogs even as a lawsuit was filed for the right to sell them outside of the fair. [23] Recent years have seen the introduction of new unusual deep-fried items, including deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried s'mores, deep-fried pork ribs, fried cheesecake; deep-fried butter, fried avocados, deep-fried peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwiches, and most recently a batter-based fried Coke. New foods in 2008 included chicken fried bacon and fried banana splits. For the 2012 fair, the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas added the deep-fried Samoa cookie in honor of the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouts of the US in 2012 and the Girl Scout 100th Anniversary Experience at the Texas Hall of State at the fair in the same year. [24] People travel all across the world to attend the unique State Fair of Texas including former talk show host, Oprah. [25] In 2019, the fair introduced a Buffalo chicken chimichanga.


Originally what was known as the State Fair of Texas was held in Houston from 1870 through 1879. [26]

In its modern incarnation, the State Fair of Texas was charted as a private corporation by local businessmen. It was an immediate success and attracted thousands of people. However, in 1904 a series of events led to a financial crisis and not enough income was available to keep the fair running. Therefore, the businessmen sold it to the city of Dallas with the agreement that 24 days during the fall would be set aside annually for the fair and exhibition. [27]

On February 10, 1942, a five-alarm blaze "raged unchecked for an hour in the automobile building at the State Fair park" causing damage estimated at several hundred thousand dollars. One fireman was hospitalized after being overcome with smoke and a half dozen others were given treatment at the scene. "Roy Rupard, secretary of the State Fair association, said the loss was covered by insurance." [28]

Big Tex, a 55-foot (17 m) tall cowboy statue, has been its symbol since his introduction in 1952. In 1953, Big Tex's jaw was hinged, so that he appears to "speak" the announcements that promote fair events. [29] After a fire on October 19, 2012 destroyed the original Big Tex, he was rebuilt and reintroduced for the 2013 fair. Big Tex is claimed to be the world's tallest cowboy. [30]

Its 212-foot (65 m) Texas Star Ferris wheel was the largest in North America when it debuted in October 1985, just months before the Texas Sesquicentennial. It has since been dwarfed by Ferris wheels in Las Vegas and Orlando. [20] [31]

In addition, the fair once had a “Colored People’s Day,” “Ku Klux Klan Day” and, as recently as the 1980s, a day dedicated to the Confederacy. [32] In the 1960s, the fair looked at market research showing that many white fairgoers were frightened by seeing black people on their way into the fair leading to an aggressive eminent domain campaign to buy nearby homes to convert the land into parking lots. [33]

DART's Fair Park Station and MLK Jr. Station opened in 2009 to serve Fair Park and the State Fair. In addition to regular service on the Green Line, the Red Line and Blue Line also run "special event" trains to Fair Park Station for major fair events. [34]

In 2017, Foundation for Community Empowerment commissioned a major report laying a major portion of blame against how the State Fair of Texas has hindered development at and around Fair Park. [35]


In 1955, Juanita Craft organized a protest of the State Fair of Texas against its policy of admitting blacks only on "Negro Achievement Day." [36]

The State Fair in 1966 commissioned a report on the redevelopment of the fair, which concluded that the land around Fair Park should be `bought up and turned into a paved, lighted, fenced parking lot" that would `eliminate the problem from sight'. "If the poor Negroes in their shacks cannot be seen, all the guilt feelings…will disappear, or at least be removed from primary consideration".

The State Fair was criticized in October 2014 for spending over $5 million on attorneys fees to two insiders. [37]

Despite a $30 million investment in Summer Adventures, the event was shuttered after just one season. [38]

In August 2015, the State Fair was sanctioned more than $75,000 for filing a SLAPP suit against a lawyer who had requested financial documents from the State Fair. On August 2, 2016, the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed in its entirety the judgment against the State Fair of Texas, holding that the trial court erred in, among other things, finding that the State Fair's lawsuit was a SLAPP suit. [39]


A glimpse of the State Fair of Texas at night in 2006 Texas State Fair at night.jpg
A glimpse of the State Fair of Texas at night in 2006
Texas Star Ferris wheel at night Texas Star - Texas State Fair.JPG
Texas Star Ferris wheel at night
The Texas Star ferris wheel ride Texas-Star-4146.jpg
The Texas Star ferris wheel ride

Economics, finances and management

The economics, finances and management of the State Fair of Texas is a matter of public concern and study. The five main areas of concern are:


Staff of the State Fair have traditionally reported that attendance at the fair runs in the vicinity each year of between 3 and 3.5 million people. These figures were disputed in an April 2016 study published by Tom Kelly, Ph.D, a professor of Economics at Baylor University and the Director of Baylor University Center for Business and Economic Research, along with Bennet Hickok, an Economics student at Baylor. The Kelly/Hickok report argues that the attendance at the fair is about 1.5-1.7 million visitors a year, or about half of what state fair staff reported it to be. [60] According to the 2017 State Fair of Texas Annual Report, [61] the Fair attracted a total of 2,250,433 attendees during the 2017 event with roughly 93,000 daily guests. The total annual reported attendance for 2018 dropped to 2,049,119 with a net operating revenue loss of $3,199,044 for the year.

Economic impact on surrounding businesses

The 2016 Kelly/Hickok study found that the State Fair generates around $50 million for the area economy. This is in contrast to the figure of $600 million in impact that the State Fair itself has traditionally reported. [62] [63] [64]

How excess revenue is spent

The State Fair has a lease with Fair Park, the terms of which require that any profit or excess revenue it generates be spent "for the development and enhancement of Fair Park and the Fair". In May 2016, the State Fair released a list of capital projects for the past 10 years, detailing how the fair had spent their excess revenue. According to media reports, 90% of excess revenue was spent on projects that solely benefited the State Fair. A survey of Fair Park revealed out of the 277 acres available, 200 are covered in asphalt or concrete, compared to 10 acres of green space. [65]

Staff compensation

In 2014, Errol McKoy, the former President of the State Fair of Texas, received $1.425 million in compensation. [66] [67] [68] Excessive executive compensation is a constant and major complaint of the fair. [69]

NameTitle2017 Salary [70]
Mitchell GlieberPresident$641,628
Jamire NavarroCFO$326,970
Robert HilbunGM/SVP$370,522
Daryl RealSVP Livestock$226,464
Carey RisingerSVP Concessions$250,075
Jennifer SchuderSVP, Marketing$232,646
Russell FitzgeraldSVP - Operations$231,842
Karissa CondoianisSVP, Public Relations$166,738
Jason K. HaysDirector, Creative Media$149,973
Robert ForswallDirector, Purchasing$122,468
Margaret HannahDirector, Human Resources$127,389
Kelly PoundDirector, Exhibitor$125,122
Susan BrosinDirector, Development$116,900
Errol McKoyFormer President$42,599


On May 13, 2016, the City of Dallas Auditor, Craig Kinton, released an audit regarding Fair Park Business Partners, which included the State Fair of Texas. The audit concluded the City of Dallas had no way to ensure the State Fair was adequately investing in Fair Park, per the terms of the contract between the City of Dallas and State Fair. [71]

See also


  1. Thompson, Steve. "Big Tex's economic impact? Try $50 million, says new study on the State Fair". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  2. Williams, Don. "An Open Letter To Board Of Directors Of The State Fair of Texas" (PDF). D Magazine. Retrieved October 26, 2016.
  3. "A Great Park For A Great City" (PDF). D Magazine. D Magazine. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  4. "Audit of Fair Park Business Partners Oversight" (PDF). City of Dallas. Retrieved May 13, 2016.
  5. |url= |website=City of Dallas |accessdate=December 12, 2018}}
  6. "A Great Park for a Great City" (PDF). Foundation for Community Empowerment. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  7. Archived 2014-02-13 at the Wayback Machine
  8. "Daily Attendance". The State Fair of Texas. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  9. Simek, Peter. "The Long, Troubled, and Often Bizarre History of the State Fair of Texas". D Magazine. D Magazine. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  10. Lipsey, Sid; Travel, Yahoo (June 5, 2014). "The 7 best state fairs in America". New York Post.
  11. "America's 5 Best State Fairs" . Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  12. Chieftain, Pueblo. "". Pueblo Chieftain. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  13. "State Fair of Texas: Opening Day Parade - Dallas Socials". 25 September 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  14. "State Fair of Texas to move opening day parade from downtown to Fair Park". Dallas News. 2019-08-29. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  15. Davis, Domini. "It's State Fair Of Texas Season — Here's What You Need To Know". KERA News. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  16. Chebbine, Lydia. "State Fair of Texas Has Complex Relationship With its Neighbors". US News. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  17. Cassidy, Jon. "State Fair's expenses help explain Fair Park's blight". Townhall. Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  18. Rankin, Beth. "State Fair Time Is No Festival for Expo Park Bars and Restaurants That Lose Money". Dallas Observer. Retrieved October 21, 2016.
  19. Luke Johnson (October 8, 2016). "'This is a major deal:' Southern to play Texas Southern in 2018–19 Texas State Fair Football Showdown". Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  20. 1 2 "What makes us unique," Archived 2008-09-13 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2008-09-24.
  21. Wilonsky, Robert. "Blaming City, Museum of Automotive History Pulls Out of Fair Park. City Says: Not Its Fault". Dallas Observer. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  22. "Official website of The State Fair of Texas".
  23. Spillyards, Allie. "Fletcher's Family Speaks About Trademark Infringement Lawsuit". NBC 5. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  24. Inc, Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas; AT&T. "The Girl Scouts 100th Anniversary Experience to Mark Anniversary Milestone at 2012 State Fair of Texas". Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  25. Tepper, Rachel (July 11, 2012). "Deep-Fried Samoa Girl Scout Cookies Hit The State Fair Circuit". Huffington Post.
  26. Meeks, Flori (March 28, 2013). "Few traces remain of state fair site". Houston Chronicle . Retrieved May 22, 2018.
  27. Nancy Wiley, "State Fair of Texas", Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed August 16, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  28. Wire service, "Flames Sweep Texas State Fair Building", The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Wednesday 11 February 1942, Volume 48, page 3.
  29. Steven Butler. Fair Park Timeline, part 4: The Post-Exposition Years (1938-1984)
  30. State Fair of Texas
  31. Norman Anderson. Ferris wheels: an illustrated history, Popular Press, 1992, page 138-40.
  32. Emily, Jennifer. "8 Dallas sites you might not know have links to the Confederacy". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  33. Schutze, Jim. "New Report Tells Sordid Past of Fair Park, State Fair of Texas — but Offers Hope". Dallas Observer. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  34. Archived 2009-09-26 at the Wayback Machine
  35. Simek, Peter. "A Scathing Look at Fair Park's History and Why Dallas Needs to Finally Fix the Park". D Magazine. D Magazine.
  36. Women In Texas History - Juanita Craft
  37. 1 2 Phillips, L. P. "State Fair Of Texas Pays 'Above Average' Legal Bills" . Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  38. 1 2 "There won't be Summer Adventures in Fair Park this year". 18 February 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  39. 1 2 "Dallas Court of Appeals Opinion".
  40. "Dallas Public Library - Site Map" (PDF). Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  41. "Everything you need for the State Fair of Texas". GuideLive. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  42. "Ferris Wheel Seat Plunges Killing Girl". The Bulletin. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  43. "University of North Texas Digital Library, "Fair Park Expansion: A Case Study of Political Bias and Protest in Urban Politics", Davies, Elizabeth Durham. Accessed August 25, 2016" . Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  44. IRS 990 Year 2010 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, "State Fair of Texas"
  45. IRS 990 Year 2011 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, "State Fair of Texas"
  46. "Get your thrills on the $12 million adrenaline rush now open at Fair Park" . Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  48. Schutze, Jim (21 February 2014). "Fair Park's Summer Amusement Venture Is Dead. Is Anyone Surprised?" . Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  49. "Big Tex Makes His Debut One Day Early" . Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  50. IRS 990 Year 2012 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, "State Fair of Texas"
  51. "Dallas council enthusiastic about proposal to privatize Fair Park". 3 September 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  52. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-10-13. Retrieved 2014-10-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  53. "Include edges in Fair Park revitalization". 9 September 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  54. "Dallas Leaders Praise New Fair Park Plan" . Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  55. IRS 990 Year 2013 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax, "State Fair of Texas"
  56. "Plan to reduce State Fair space would end its run, official says". 26 March 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  57. "Dallas Park Board has signed off on Rawlings task force's proposal to privatize Fair Park". 23 May 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  58. "Judge sanctions State Fair of Texas after it sued lawyer who wants to see Big Tex's checkbook". 14 August 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  59. "Riggs & Ray, P.C. v. State Fair of Texas Appeal from 116th Judicial District Court of Dallas County (memorandum opinion)". Justia. Retrieved September 5, 2019.
  60. Kelly, Tom; Hickok, Bennet (April 2016). "Reassessing the Economic Impact of Fair Park and the State Fair" (PDF). Baylor University. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  61. 2017 State Fair of Texas Annual Report Retrieved Jul 15, 2018
  62. Shipp, Brett (May 4, 2016). "Economist's study raises eyebrows about State Fair's future in Fair Park". WFAA. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  63. Thompson, Steve (April 15, 2016). "How valuable is Big Tex to Dallas? State Fair's fuzzy numbers make it hard to tell". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  64. Thompson, Steve (April 19, 2016). "Big Tex's economic impact? Try $50 million, says new study on the State Fair". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  65. Wilonsky, Robert (May 13, 2016). "Dallas isn't keeping a close eye on Big Tex and city's other Fair Park partners, says audit". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  66. Thompson, Steve (April 22, 2016). "Big Tex tries to be more transparent about State Fair spending". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  67. Cassidy, Jon (May 2, 2016). "State Fair's expenses help explain Fair Park's blight". Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  68. "STATE FAIR OF TEXAS". Economic Research Institute. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  69. New, Brian. "I-Team: State Fair Of Texas Executive Paid $708K". CBS Dallas / Fort Worth. Retrieved September 29, 2017.
  70. "Form 990 for period ending December 2017". ProPublica. ProPublica.
  71. Kinton, Craig (May 13, 2016). "AUDIT OF FAIR PARK BUSINESS PARTNERS OVERSIGHT" (PDF). Office of the Dallas, Texas City Auditor. Retrieved 27 July 2016.

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