CANFIELD, Ohio – The tens of thousands expected to turn out for the Canfield Fair will get a firsthand look at the fairgrounds’ new exhibition center, one of the key upgrades made to the site in recent years.
The 34,000-square-foot first phase of the exhibition center was put into use during the Junior Fair last year, which was open only to those involved and their families. The fair itself was canceled because of the pandemic.
The fair board had long desired to increase space for students in the 4-H program and create a better show arena, says Craig Myers, president and owner of Myers Equipment Corp. in Canfield and a director since 2002.
In addition to his family-owned businesses exhibiting at the fair since the 1930s, Myers himself showed animals there through the 4-H program.
“We had simply outgrown the facilities at the north end of the grounds to help the 4-H kids and their families, and 4-H is such a large part of the fair,” he says. “We also had some groups come to us that were interested in having some larger horse shows but we needed a bigger arena.”
Fundraising for the event center began in 2017 and construction started right about the time the pandemic hit but before supply chain disruptions that led to price increases in construction materials, he says.
The first phase of the project was completed about a year ago at a cost of about $3 million, which included infrastructure upgrades.
“It’s wonderful. It’s something the Valley needs,” particularly to promote 4-H programs, says Billy Cappabianca, a lieutenant with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and the fair board’s newest member.
Cappabianca says attending the fair is a longtime tradition for his family “since well before I came along.” He became more involved through his duties with the sheriff’s office, working with the board on logistics for security and traffic control.
He joined the fair board in March 2020, just as the pandemic forced changes on society, including the decision to cancel public participation in the fair.
“It was his fault. That’s what we tell him,” Myers jokes.
“’Join the fair board,’ they said. ‘It’ll be fun,’ they said,” Cappabianca responds.
The fairgrounds is maintained year round by a staff that ranges from a “skeleton crew” of five in the winter to about 35 to prepare for the fair, Myers says.
Regular maintenance is done every year at the fairgrounds, including to the sanitary systems and buildings’ roofs, and siding and electrical systems. Several new restrooms have been added over the past 15 years.
“Without continuous upgrades, the fairgrounds “soon would not have any good buildings,” Myers says.
During his time on the fair board, Cappabianca says he’s learned about the “unbelievable commitment” of the fair board and staff to keep the grounds in good shape.
“If there’s a gutter to a building that needs cleaned, it’s amazing to know how many individuals know about the gutter” and get it put on the maintenance calendar to address “before it continues to get worse and just falls off the building,” he says.
Some upgrades were put on hold because of the pandemic, which not only cost the fair board the revenue from rentals but also “made it tough to go out and knock on doors” for the capital campaign, Cappabianca says.
Earlier this year, the fair launched a community art project fundraiser in which statues of the iconic rooster, the symbol of the fair, were painted. The fundraiser is modeled on similar ones in Youngstown and Warren that used the Youngstown State University penguin and the goddess of speed statues, respectively.
“The response from our community toward the rooster project has been tremendous,” says Tony Parks, a fair board member who handles marketing. The fair board secured sponsorships from local businesses and 25 local artists were selected, each receiving a stipend for his work.
The completed roosters were displayed at local businesses over the summer and will be displayed as “a full flock” during the fair and “roost” in the grassy area just south of the grandstand in front of the Police and First Aid Building.
After the fair, the roosters will be auctioned Nov. 13 at an event for the Canfield Fair Foundation, which supports maintenance and upkeep of the fairgrounds as well as capital projects.
Fair visitors will notice new benches around the fairgrounds that feature tributes and messages from the individuals and groups that made donations. “We bought approximately 65 benches this year and are grateful for the support of the community and touched by the sentiments that people had engraved on them,” Cappabianca says.
Next on the agenda at the event center is a 9,000-square-foot addition to the front of the building that would have restrooms, a few small meeting rooms that can be rented to groups, and a foyer that can be used as a classroom.
A proposed third phase, if needed, would add another 34,000 square feet of show and exhibit space and room for animals. The second and third phases would cost close to $3 million, Myers says.
The fair is getting a virtual upgrade this year with the debut of a new mobile app. Available in the App Store and on Google Play under Canfield Fairgrounds, the app includes a fair map and event schedules, allows users to purchase fair and event tickets, and lets people participate in the Junior Fair auction online.
It also has geo-locating features that let users drop location pins within the app.
“This is going to be a great tool as you can drop a pin where you park your car and then when you are ready to leave, the app will give you turn-by-turn walking directions to get you back to your vehicle,” says Bergen Giordani, marketing and sponsorship coordinator for the fairgrounds.
Many planned improvements at the fairgrounds largely involve infrastructure such as electrical upgrades and improvements to increase water pressure, “things that the general public will not see,” Myers says.
One potential need that the fair board identified a few years ago is seating upgrades in the grandstand, built in 1936, to accommodate the larger size of people today. “That’s been put on the back burner. But maybe we’ll have a great year after we get this event center completed,” Myers says.
Pictured: Billy Cappabianca and Craig Myers, fair directors, stand inside the new multipurpose exhibition building.