The re-formed Broward County (Fla.) Fair drew about 55,000 in attendance despite bad weather on Thanksgiving Day, said Harlan Bast, the event's promoter and owner of Hildebrand Amusement Rides. Fair dates were Nov. 16-26 at Gulfstream Park, a horse racing facility and casino.
"The numbers were good, and of course, the two weekends were the best," Bast said. "Unfortunately, we had rain on Thanksgiving, which hurt attendance. If we got that day in, I think we would have ended up with 70,000 to 75,000 people. But the public was happy and the track was happy."
Most important, the fair "had money left over" for the first time in many years, he said, without providing revenue figures. On his own, Bast invested $500,000 in the event. The number doubled in the two months leading up to t
he fair through guarantees paid to equipment owners and advertising expenses, he said.
The fair re-emerged at Gulfstream Park after a four-year absence from South Florida due to multiple issues, including the inability to find a long-term site for the event. Five years ago, Bast signed a 10-year deal with Broward County Fair officials to help revive the event, which culminated in the 2017 run.
Since that time, Bast's deal with the fair has been extended to 20 years, he said. Separately, Bast signed a multiyear contract with the horse racing facility and casino to continue holding the fair in Hallandale. Working with Bob Anz, president of the Broward County Fair Board, Bast is considering whether to expand event dates as well as the midway for the 2018 fair.
This year's layout was split into two parts. The primary midway covered about 60 rides booked from a dozen carnivals and independent ride owners. The second piece, the independent midway managed by Nigel Carley, focused on 75 games and several food concessions.
Combined, the total space got a bit tight at times, Bast said. The first night of operation, crowds were slow coming through the gates, an issue that was resolved as fair officials installed more ticket booths and sellers. By 7 p.m., a few hours after the gates opened, the bottleneck was eliminated, he said.
In addition, business was slow on the independent midway over the fair's 10 days. To create more energy and boost that part of the event, Bast is thinking about adding more food trailers in 2018 to provide fairgoers with greater variety of options.
"Those are typical growing pains," Bast said. "I've got a full notebook on changes for next year. We're tossing around the idea of going to 17 days, maybe starting a little earlier but still going over Thanksgiving. I don't think there would be any problem drawing 250,000 if we have the proper space and time."
For this year's fair, Bast, in addition to his own equipment, booked rides from Modern Midways, Midway Rides of Utica, Michael's Amusements, Geren Rides, Deggeller Attractions and Oscar's Amusements, among others.
Carnival veteran Frank Sutton filled a key role, supervising a 15-man crew to clean the property after the fair was over, which included restoring the space where 60 trailers and bunkhouses were parked on the track's south side.
For next year's event, ride operators are already contacting Bast about potentially bringing equipment to Broward County and juggling dates to clear their calendars for mid to late November, he said.
"The fair board worked its tail off and we had lots of support," Bast said. "For next year, we would like to add about 15 to 20 more rides, including some spectaculars, and funnel more equipment to the independent side," Bast said. "I firmed up our deal with I Heart Radio and Clear Channel [billboards], so those two sponsors are coming back."