Come one, come all! The Greater Gulf State Fair is getting a facelift.
When the annual fair opens its gates Oct. 24, attendees will notice some changes, including significant upgrades to “The Grounds,” the 100-acre property formerly known as the Greater Gulf State Fairgrounds, as well as the addition of many exhibits, activities and entertainment options. Despite some complaints that the fair might be losing some of its classic qualities, executive director Scott Tindle assured traditional fair attractions like a petting zoo, local farm animals, carnival rides and tasty food will still be available.
This year’s Greater Gulf State Fair is set to be “the fair plus an extra experience,” he said.
For the first time since its beginning in 1955, the Greater Gulf State Fair will have a yearly theme, which will drive the setting each year. The inaugural theme will be “Celebrate the Coast.”
“As soon as you walk in the front door, you’ll feel like you’re underwater,” Tindle said.
Daily entertainment will include a stingray exhibit, a sea lion show, a shark show, a magic show, a 250-ton sand sculpture which will be created with 11 dump-truck loads of sand, and an additional 16-foot square sandbox for children.
“We wanted to celebrate the coast and the things that we love about living on the coast,” Tindle said. “We want to represent the whole Gulf Coast. We believe this is a regional event and not a local event.”
Tindle said it costs roughly $1 million to produce the Greater Gulf State Fair and despite all of the changes being implemented, he said there have been no changes to the event’s budget.
“We’re just changing the way money is spent,” he said.
According to Tindle, the fair is now focused on eliminating things “that didn’t make sense,” like music entertainment, which is something the fair had spent a lot of budgeted money on in previous years.
Now, the focus is on utilizing the money in different, more beneficial ways and turning toward more family-friendly entertainment options, he said.
For instance, special entertainment for this year’s fair include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and characters from the popular children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba” and Disney Junior’s “Octonauts.”
Tindle said over half a million dollars was reinvested to improve The Grounds through landscaping and by putting up decorative fences. He added that he and the staff want to “overmanage details” that some people may think is not worth the trouble.
“This place isn’t going to be Epcot, but we can certainly make it look nice,” he said.
Furthermore, the fair will be entirely free of portolets for the first time. Instead, there will be 55-foot, heated and cooled “comfort stations,” which will each have an attendant to ensure cleanliness, Tindle said.
“We are telling people we are going to create the cleanest, most family-friendly event in America,” he said.
As far as providing patrons with the best service and best overall experience as possible, Tindle said the fair’s year-round professional staff participated in a week-long, guest service training session at the Disney Institute in Orlando, where staff members were able to go behind-the-scenes and learn how to implement Disney’s well-known, family-friendly customer service.
Additionally, the Greater Gulf State Fair has recruited more than 20 former Disney cast members, who will be working with event staff and volunteers to implement the Disney-style guest services, he said.
As a Disney-style guest initiative, the Greater Gulf State Fair will implement “The Training Grounds,” an on-site training process for all volunteers. There will be 60 to 80 volunteers to help guests with whatever they need during the 10-day event, Tindle said.
But the Greater Gulf State Fair is not limited to just 10 days. The long-term vision is about community involvement year-round, Tindle said.
As a nonprofit organization, the Great Gulf State Fair partners with other local nonprofits to impact the community throughout the year. At this year’s fair, Victory Teaching Farm will provide a 1,000-square-foot urban farming exhibit. Arts Alive will host an exhibit the first three nights of the event, and the South Alabama Film Festival will have a special theatre where the “Best of Fest” films for the past six years will be shown.
Additionally, Mobile County Public Schools sell advance fair tickets as a fundraiser, keeping a portion of the ticket sales, and the Greater Gulf State Fair ends up donating about $50,000 to the different partner schools, Tindle said.
And to continue the Disney-style experience, Tindle added the fair recently teamed up with the Mobile Ballet to create Disney princess-inspired “FAIRies,” who will serve as year-round ambassadors of The Grounds and Mobile Ballet.
“Some people have the idea that the fair exists to exist,” he said. “But when you come to support us, you’re supporting the community itself.”
While this is Tindle’s second time being in charge of the fair as executive director, he was only one month in the role before overseeing the fair last year. Therefore, not many changes were implemented during his first go around as executive director, he said.
“Last year we made some improvements and started focusing on families,” Tindle said. “We intentionally and purposely focus on families.”
With families in mind, the Greater Gulf State Fair has also partnered with Infirmary Health to create a smoke-free environment, which is another change from previous years. In addition, the event will now provide a new baby center and first aid center.
“We want to exceed guest expectations at every chance,” Tindle said.
According to Tindle, the Greater Gulf State Fair has seven full-time employees and a 13-member board of directors, lead by president Josh Woods.
“We are very fortunate to have a really good staff that works really hard,” Tindle said. “The most important thing is that our board of directors believe in changing the community.”
The Greater Gulf State Fair runs Oct. 24 through Nov. 2 at The Grounds, located in West Mobile at the intersection of Cody Road and Zeigler Boulevard. Tickets will be $4 for children ages 2 to 10 and $8 for everyone over 11 years old.
As another new feature of this year’s event, the fair has partnered with the carnival to provide a “ride all day” armband for $20, if purchased in advance.
More information and volunteer opportunities can be found online at www.thegroundsmobile.com.