Hosting the Oklahoma State Fair for its 10-day run each fall would seem like a fairly manageable gig. But with the fair park serving as one of the most active horse venues in the country, O’Toole says he’s busier than you might think.
The best part and the worst part of his job is one and the same.
“I’m fond of saying we’re always busy, and everybody has an opinion of what you do,” O’Toole says.
The busy never stops around the fair park, especially on the weekends, when national horse and cattle shows, not to mention rodeo finals, come to town.
The State Fair runs Sept. 12-22 with ongoing events throughout the year. Visitors have seen taxpayer-funded improvements in recent years, with more on the way. As an economic engine, the fair park is a good investment for taxpayers, O’Toole says, because it generates $325 million annually, an estimated $90 million of which comes from the fair alone.
Those events translate to about 200,000 hotel nights annually, plus food and drink sales around the metro from those attending events at the fair park.
“At the end of the day, we’re just another piece of the economic impact puzzle for OKC,” O’Toole says. “Our goal is to create economic development through tourism. We have moved ourselves to where we are one of the finest tourism destination points in North America for the customers we serve.”
The park currently is going through two different phases of the MAPS 3 project.
Guided by the State Fair Park Master Plan, the initial phase consists of parking and site improvements, while the second will complete a new expo building.
O’Toole says fair attendees this year would have seen the building completed, had spring storms not damaged the structure so much it had to be torn down.
The 60,000-square-foot arena also won’t be ready until the fall.
Phase 2 will include the 300,000-squarefoot expo building at a cost of about $44.5 million.
The total price tag for all MAPS 3 projects at the park is $58.6 million.
“We’ve been very fortunate with the support of the citizens and the hotel-motel tax,” O’Toole says. “We have dramatically changed our presentation of the entire facility. When we complete the current project that is now under construction, we will have completed a little over $90 million in construction since January 2005.”
January 2004 was when O’Toole accepted responsibility for strategic planning, programming and managing operations at the park.
Scott Munz, state fair vice president of marketing and public relations, says the complex has a lot of difference factors working for it.
“The locality is vitally important for us,” he says. “We’re very visible off the highway.”
Will Rogers World Airport’s proximity, spacious parking lots and plenty of arena space make the park a favorite for the equine industry.
And the opinions of those served are not lost on O’Toole, especially now, as the park undergoes a makeover.
“We’ve been very pleased by the reaction of all of our visitors to the property, including just the citizens who drive by on the interstate system,” he says. “But obviously our equine customers are pleased. We were very fortunate the large horse associations were more than willing to send their senior planning people in sessions we held with our architect and design team.
“As we’ve moved forward the last eight years, they’ve continued to show that same interest and given us their input on what can make it better.”
Photos by Mark Hancock