PHOENIX — Update (2:58 p.m.): The 2021 Arizona State Fair will move to Wild Horse Pass, part of the Gila River Indian Community. The Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board unanimously voted Thursday afternoon to temporarily relocate the fair to Wild Horse Pass, which is located near Interstate 10 and Wild Horse Pass Blvd., just south of Ahwatukee.
In a news release announcing the move, which ABC15 first reported was a possibility on Wednesday, the Governor's Office said Wild Horse Pass was "larger than the size of the State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, allowing for appropriate social distancing and other public health mitigation measures" and "allows the fair grounds to continue to be available for public health needs in an underserved area of our community."
ABC15 reached out to the Governor's Office for comment late Wednesday and early Thursday, but did not receive a response.
Currently, Banner Health is operating a COVID-19 testing clinic at the fairgrounds. Prior to that, the fairgrounds hosted a gun show, drive-in movies and concerts, and last fall, a drive-thru food fair.
“The Arizona State Fair is a beloved annual tradition for countless Arizona families,” said Ducey in a statement. “This gracious offer by the Gila River Indian Community and today’s decision by the Arizona State Fair Board ensures that another year won’t pass without a State Fair.”
Specific details about the lease agreement were not announced. Executive Director of the Arizona State Fair Wanell Costello said she was unable to discuss specifics because terms were still being negotiated.
Costello said the fair would largely take place in the area around the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
"The property out here in its entirety is much much larger. The footprint we’re looking at sitting on, I don’t have actual measurements, but its larger than ours which gives us the opportunity to do some social distancing and actually grow the fair, and bring in larger entertainment events, and bring in more activities because we have more space," she said.
She said the 2021 fair would still take place in October, though confirmed dates haven't been announced yet, and would run for its normal length of time, which typically runs for three weeks.
"We’re excited. We’re excited that we get to have a fair. It was devastating to have to cancel last year in 2020. The fact that we know we can move forward in 2021, that we can hold a fair, that we can bring entertainment to the state of Arizona, I think is something that we all need," she said.
For some, news about the fair's possible -- and now, official -- move came as a surprise.
A public notice regarding the upcoming tour and meeting at Wild Horse Pass was posted Wednesday afternoon, about 24 hours prior to the vote, according to a spokesperson for the Arizona State Fair.
Costello acknowledged that "the conversations haven’t been going on all that long. It’s been a really quick process."
She said the opportunity came about after the Gila River Indian Community sent a letter to the state offering Wild Horse Pass as an available option.
That letter, dated Oct. 28, 2020, and shared by the Governor's Office on Thursday, was sent by Donald Antone, St, chairman of the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, and proposed working with the state to host the Arizona State Fair at Wild Horse Pass in March 2021.
"WHPDA has the space and the know how to host and deliver a meaningful, safe, and appropriately scaled outdoor event. It would be their honor to work with State and outside medical professionals to develop a plan to safely host the Arizona State Fair in March 2021 at WHPDA," the letter read.
Late Thursday, Phoenix City Councilwoman Laura Pastor in a statement said the decision was "sudden," "nontransparent" and felt intentionally "premediated and secretive."
"While the move is stated as “temporary,” it has a greater impact on the surrounding area long term, and the State should’ve made the effort to communicate and coordinate this change with surrounding stakeholders," she said.
Due to the pandemic, the 2020 Arizona State Fair was canceled. The spring Maricopa County Fair, which is also held at the state fairgrounds, was also canceled because of the ongoing pandemic.
After being forced to cancel the 2020 Arizona State Fair due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it appears that plans are in the works to potentially host the 2021 fair, but at a different location.
The Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board, a self-funded state agency, is set to meet twice Thursday, March 25, to discuss touring Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, near Interstate 10 and Wild Horse Pass Blvd., part of the Gila River Indian Community, as a potential host location for the 2021 fair.
The Board is also set to meet later that afternoon to discuss -- and potentially vote on -- a possible lease agreement with the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority to host the 2021 Arizona State Fair, according to meeting agendas publicly posted on the fair's website.
It was not immediately clear why the state fair was considering a move away from the Arizona State Fairgrounds, which were built in 1905 and has hosted the annual event for decades, near 19th Avenue and McDowell Road. However, Banner Health is currently operating a COVID-19 clinic there.
It was also not immediately clear if this was being proposed and discussed as a temporary one-time move or a long-term change.
When reached via text message on Wednesday, Executive Director Wanell Costello said she was unable to comment pending the action of Thursday's meetings, if any is taken.
ABC15 has reached out to Gov. Doug Ducey's Office for comment but has not yet heard back.
A spokesperson for the Wild Horse Pass Development Authority confirmed the meeting, but was unable to comment beyond the posted agenda. That spokesperson deferred additional inquiries to the Arizona State Fair.
If approved, it is unclear what the fair experience would look like or when it would take place, especially amid the ongoing pandemic. The 2021 fair will be held October 7 through October 31.
Last year, after the decision to cancel the fair was announced, organizers put on two drive-thru events where people could order some of the most popular fair treats from vendors, including turkey legs, funnel cakes, and deep-fried treats. Both events drew large numbers of people, some of whom had hours-long waits. See aerial video from the September event in the player below.
It is not first time that discussions about potentially moving the fair have happened.
In 2018, the Arizona State Fairgrounds held a "charrette" -- a series of formal and informal planning meetings -- to discuss the future of the Arizona State Fairgrounds and potential areas for improvement using feedback from stakeholders and surveys.
According to those survey results, some respondents suggested moving the fair to a new location, though the report did not specify locations, as well as improving and renovating the current building and infrastructure, entry points, access points, and overall appearance. It also mentioned bringing in new vendors for food, shopping, and attractions and improving the overall image of the fair. You can view the report, here.
The first meeting is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. No action will be taken at the first meeting, the agenda said. The second, where discussion and a potential vote is at least on the agenda, is scheduled for 1 p.m. You can view the meeting schedules and agenda, here.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the results of the meeting and vote and additional information from Executive Director Wanell Costello and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.