The Colorado State Fair just got another downpayment on its huge upgrade

An illustration of the long-term plan for the Colorado State Fair and Fairgrounds.

The leaders of the Colorado State Fair recently laid out a plan to spend $180 million planting trees, upgrading buildings and more at the historic fairgrounds in Pueblo.

Last week, they got a small portion of that money — $4 million — from a new state law. That’s enough money to continue work on some of the early fairground improvements.

"There's a lot of upgrades needed at the state fairgrounds themselves. We have historic buildings that really need renovation. We have a lot of ideas on how to utilize the space in a better way,” said House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat.

It’s not clear yet where the new money will be spent. The master plan is meant to refresh the aging fairgrounds and boost attendance, which has remained “relatively flat,” the plan states. The plan laments the decline of the fairgrounds from a verdant, park-like setting to a paved-over parking lot.

“The landscape is in decline and pavement is increasing, resulting in a less attractive and less comfortable environment. There is a significant loss of the historic, stately elm and honey locust trees, green spaces have been replaced with pavement or rock groundcover and planters have been removed,” the plan states.

It adds: “The result is an unpleasant pedestrian environment that is more difficult to attract people and events.”

A rendering of the Colorado Food Plaza from the Colorado State Fair Master Plan. Work is underway on the plaza.

The $4 million comes on top of money from other sources, including $5.2 million of federal funds to start renovating the Palace of Agriculture, $1 million for upgrades at the 4-H Auditorium, and $5 million from previous federal stimulus funds.

Work is already underway on some “phase one” projects, including building a new Colorado-themed food plaza and work on Gate 5 and the adjoining entry plaza. By the time this year’s fair begins, early work on those will be complete, including a large new shade canopy. Within a year after that, general manager Scott Stoller expects visitors to notice a significant difference.

A rendering of planned upgrades for the Colorado State Fair's Main Street from the fair's master plan.

“When the Colorado plaza is complete and the gate project is complete, it’s going to be a significant upgrade to the outdoor experience in one of the most blighted areas of the fairgrounds and one of the most traffic-filled areas,” he said.

The full plan could take 20 years to finish.