Date: September 14, 2005

Sam Giordano, president and general manager, State Fair of Louisiana, Shreveport, concluded a meeting yesterday about the fate of this year’s fair, set for Oct. 27-Nov. 13, satisfied with the decision to push forward.

“We could have decided to do several things,” said Giordano, whose fairgrounds is currently teeming with Hurricane Katrina evacuees, American Red Cross volunteers and others involved in relief efforts. “We could have decided to cancel the fair. We could have decided to limit the time the evacuees could use our coliseum. We have 1,200 people there now.”

But fair officials have decided the show will go on. And the evacuees will continue to use the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum, which has become their home since the Hurricane Katrina ravaged lower Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama last week.

“We are going to build a 10-foot high fence around the coliseum for our guests,” Giordano said. “It will be a village for them. We have canceled all the activities that were scheduled for the coliseum or found different locations for them as we could.”

Giordano said he feels having this “village” within his fair is most likely a first for a fair. The fence will not be built to keep his guests out of the fair, however. He said they will, instead, become an integral part of it. “Some will work for us and some will just enjoy it,” Giordano said. “We’ll ride ‘em for free. I think this will be the best fair we’ve ever had. The outpouring of help that has come from this community, I think, will continue through this fair.”

But some things did have to be rearranged and fairgoers will have to do without some entertainment. Fair officials had to completely cancel the rock show set for Nov. 4. Called the ‘80s Invasion Tour, it featured Great White, Warrant and Firehouse. They also had to cancel the State Fair Rodeo, set for Nov. 11 & 12, and the State Fair Ranch Rodeo, set for Nov. 13. They will move activities such as the twirling competition, the cheerleading competition and the Louisiana Lawnmower State Fair Showdown.

“We have talked to all the canceled shows and we won’t lose any money,” Giordano said. “They will give us our money back.”

The Greater Gulf State Fair, Mobile, Ala., was also expected to go on as planned oct. 21-30, said Gary McArrell, fair manager. Hurricane Katrina had blown down some trees and signs on the grounds, but, other than that, McArrell said there was little damage. There were no evacuees located on the grounds, but emergency equipment was staged there.

“We are cautiously optimistic about our fair this year,” McArrell said. “We had lowered our ticket prices this year and we hope that makes a positive impact.”

This fair had lowered admission prices before the hurricane. McArrell said they had decided the high cost of acts and in turn the high ticket costs for consumers had just “gotten out of hand,” so they have switched to free entertainment on the grounds. That reduced ticket prices from $9, the cost of an adult ticket last year, to $5 for that same ticket this year. Advance prices are even less.

“A family of four, say two adults and two children, if they buy their tickets in advance, can come to the fair for $12,” he said.

The Pensacola (Fla.) Interstate Fair, although along the Gulf Coast, was spared by Hurricane Katrina, said the fairÂ’s Felecia Chivington, secretary. It is expected to run from Sept. 20-30.

Meanwhile, no plans had been made for the Mississippi State Fair, Jackson, Oct. 5-15, according to the fair’s Steve Vernamonti, sponsor coordinator. That decision should be made soon. Vernamont said the grounds had about 1,000 evacuees staying in the Mississippi Coliseum. Hundreds of animals people had brought in before the storm but had been unable to retrieve are also housed at the fairgorunds. “I have an English bulldog at my house right now,” he said. “I am taking care of it for a young boy who lost his home. When he is ready, he’ll call and I’ll hand him over.”

Early September events in the coliseum had been canceled. The next scheduled is Disney on Ice for Sept. 22-25. That was still on.

Canceled this year so far are the Washington Parish Free Fair, Franklinton, La., which had been set for Oct. 19-22, and the Greater Baton Rouge State Fair, which had been set for Oct. 27-Nov. 6. The Baton Rouge fairgounds is being used by FEMA for disaster relief. “I’m sure all the little fairs in southern Mississippi and Louisiana are canceled,” Giordano said.

Interviewed for this story: Sam Giordano, (318) 635-1361; Steve Vernamonti, (601) 961-4000; Felecia Chivington, (850) 944-4500; and Gary McArrell, (251) 344-4573