SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – The New York State Fair opens this year with operators saying it is in its best shape ever.

The fair opens its 158th edition Thursday looking to top the 1 million mark in attendance for the third time in four years. Its operating revenues have doubled over the last decade, while corporate sponsorships have rocketed over the same period. It has finished with substantial operating profits in each of the last six years.

“We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves,” said Fair Director Peter Cappuccilli. “Not only are we self-sufficient in our operations. We get little or no help from the state for maintaining and improving our buildings and grounds. Not too many state fairs can say that.”

In recent years, fairs have become increasingly self-reliant – either by choice or by necessity – in regard to their operating budgets, said Jim Tucker, president of the International Association of Fairs and Expos. Only a few, however, also have responsibility for taking care of their infrastructures, he said.

“It’s one of the finest, best-run fairs in America,” Tucker said.

The New York State Fair was first held in Syracuse in 1841 with an $8,000 appropriation from state lawmakers. Taxpayers subsidized the fair for the next century and a half, until 1991 when the fair’s operating budget of $8.55 million was matched by revenues.

During the span, there were some hard times, and even talk of abandoning the fairgrounds, which lay dormant for most of the year, and canceling the annual fair.

In 1996, Cappucilli initiated an aggressive business plan to promote the fair regionally and to use the fairgrounds for events year-round.

“Last year, there was something going on here everyday but Christmas,” Cappuccilli said.

The growth has been dramatic.

Revenues – generated through a combination of ticket sales, vendor contracts, sponsorships and parking fees – have grown from $8.5 million in 1995 to $16 million last year.

Meanwhile, corporate sponsorships have climbed from $165,000 in 1995 to $2.4 million this year.

“Companies have realized what a great place the fair is to market, promote and showcase their products. One million potential customers in one place. And the customers come to them. I think we are just opening the floodgates,” Cappuccilli said.

He added that promotional giveaways and free concerts have added to the fair’s allure.

This year, the fair spent $450,000 for its free daily concerts, which include performances by The Temptations, Eddie Money, Tony Orlando and The Oak Ridge Boys.

Attendance at the New York Fair jumped from 865,895 in 1998 to 959,408 the following year. It topped 1 million in 2001 and 2002. Operators blame a rainy Labor Day last year for breaking that streak.

In general, attendance at fairs across the country is up 5 percent to 10 percent, a spike that began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, according to Tucker. State fairs in Iowa, Delaware, Ohio and Wisconsin all have set attendance records in the last year.

Certainly, concerns about foreign travel have benefited the domestic tourism industry, including state fairs, said Tucker.

“But I think there’s a renewed focus on celebration of community since 9-11. The nation has drawn together. There is something comforting about sharing experiences with the people in your community,” Tucker said.

The New York State Fair runs through Labor Day.

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