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State fair profitable, but collapse will be costly in the end

October 13, 2011

This year's Indiana State Fair still turned a profit, though a smaller one than in past years, despite reeling from the impact of a stage collapse that killed seven people and injured dozens more.

Figures released Thursday by the Indiana State Fair Commission show this year's event posted a net profit of $389,000. That's compared with about $820,000 in 2009, the first year for an extended 17-day run, and $1.2 million for 2010, when a KISS concert and other events helped the fair rake in record grandstand revenue.

Officials had budgeted a net profit of $900,000 for this year's event, according to last year's annual fair report.

But this year's fair struggled to recover after the Aug. 13 accident when the stage rigging collapsed just before a performance by country duo Sugarland. The fair closed for one day, and officials hosted a free day at the fair in an effort to boost lagging attendance. The result was a half-million-dollar shortfall in gate receipts, parking, concessions, and canceled grandstand events, fair officials said.

And the costs continue. Fair officials estimate that two outside investigations of the collapse will cost $975,000 by the end of the year.. Engineers hired to investigate the collapse plan to begin dismantling the stage wreckage Monday to move it to a warehouse for further analysis, said Scott Nacheman of Thornton Tomasetti.

Fair officials said more than $275,000 has been distributed from a relief fund set up to help victims of the stage collapse.

Indiana State Fair Foundation Director Justin Armstrong told the commission that $278,000 has been distributed from the fund. The 17 claims processed include six from the estates of those killed.

Families of those killed each received $35,000. The fund has collected nearly $900,000.

Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy expressed disappointment that fewer than 20 claims had been received, compared with more than 50 tort claims—the precursor to possible lawsuits—turned in against a separate $5 million state pool. Lacy urged lawyers who represent victims to suggest they also file claims with the relief fund, which relies on private donations.

"This is a gift," Lacy said. "This is the generosity of the good citizens of Indiana saying, 'We care about you.'"

The deadline for submitting claims is Nov. 14.

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