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Oklahoma State Fair to open with push for overhaul

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Visitors to this year's Oklahoma State Fair will be greeted by a campaign to win public support for a $100 million overhaul of State Fair Park.

Visitors to the fair, which opens Friday, will get a chance to review the master plans for the massive project, which would be financed by a 3-percent increase in the hotel room tax rate.

The overall theme of the master plan calls for an influence of Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired designs combined with the feel of the Old West.

The plans include sketches of new entrances, paving, landscaping and new facades for every building. Visitors also will see designs for new livestock buildings and horse show arenas aimed at keeping equine events and attracting more business in the future.

Skip Wagner, state fair general manager, said the Oklahoma City Council could be asked in the next few months to schedule an election on the idea.

"I think what will trigger them to approve it will be a presentation saying, 'Here is a plan for the fairgrounds that has broad support,' and I don't think they'll want to approve this without having that support," Wagner said.

Wagner said the proposed tax increase already has the support of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the local hotel industry. The city's room tax now stands at 2 cents for every dollar.

The master plan was launched in early 2001, not long after Wagner was hired to succeed longtime fair general manager Don Hotz. The fair board hired Nashville-based Bullock-Smith to draw up early conceptuals that then were given "some flash" by local amusement park operator Six Flags.

Plans for the project will be on display in the newly christened Centennial Building, formerly the Kitchens of America Building.

With support of the Oklahoma Centennial Commission, the state fair board launched a facade renovation of the building's main entrance to give visitors a better idea of how the renovations might turn out, Wagner said.

Blake Wade, director of the Centennial Commission, said his agency is excited about the fair park makeover, which he said is key to the 2007 centennial celebrations.

State Fair Park is scheduled to host a centennial expo, which Wade said is one step below a world's fair, but would attract visitors from across the country.

"We're hoping to bring in stars from everywhere, and make sure the United States knows all about Oklahoma, and to make all Oklahomans proud," Wade said.

Wade and Wagner said they hope to have construction under way by late 2004 to meet the centennial deadline and keep an upper hand in re-signing contracts with major horse shows in 2005.
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