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Cash-strapped State Fair could leave Pueblo

The Colorado State Fair’s 146-year history in Pueblo might be in its final chapter, if the frustrations voiced by a legislative committee Tuesday take hold.

The fair has been losing money and depending on millions of dollars each year in taxpayers’ subsidies for at least the last 13 years, and auditors told legislators there’s no solution in sight at the current location.

Meanwhile, financial support from the city of Pueblo has been cut by two-thirds the last three years, even though the fair generates an estimated $29 million economic impact to the local economy.

A revitalized National Western Complex in Denver, or some other Colorado community that might bid for it, was cited by members of the Legislative Audit Committee as a potential new home for the 11-day fair around Labor Day each year.

The fairgrounds had a year-round operating loss of $3.3 million last year, and receives just over $2 million in state and local contributions.

“In order to continue their operations on an annual basis, they’re needing more and more money from the state treasure,” state auditor Dianne Ray told the committee, adding that solutions auditors have recommended in the past haven’t stanched the losses.

“The key to business is location, location, location,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton.

Rep. Dan Nordberg, R-Colorado Springs, said he was disappointed to learn support from the city of Pueblo, which used to put in $315,000 annually, has fallen to $125,000 last year and $100,000 the two years before that. Also, in 2013, when Pueblo County voters were asked to support a half-cent sales tax for the fair and five other nonprofits, raising $7.5 million annually, only 43 percent voted for it.

Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki said the city has been forced to make deep cuts in many programs, because of southern Colorado’s slow recovery from the recession. But that does not signal a lack of support, he said.

“I think we have a responsibility to support the State Fair, but we’ve had a tough time the last four or five years,” he said. “But we’re coming out of it, and I think we’ll have the ability to support the State Fair.”

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