Arizona State Fair via Twitter
The Arizona State Fair has drawn visitors from around the state for decades. Source: Arizona State Fair via Twitter

Maricopa residents have a big new event in the immediate area to love – or hate.

The Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board (AESF) decided Thursday to temporarily move the state’s largest event, the state fair, from its traditional home at the State Fair Grounds at McDowell Road and 19th Avenue to Wild Horse Pass at the Gila River Indian Community in Chandler.

The Fair Board toured the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on Thursday morning, then had a public meeting in the early afternoon at Rawhide Steak House on the Gila River grounds in Chandler. It announced its decision afterwards.

“As the impact of COVID-19 continues to affect the way the live event industry operates, we’ve been exploring ways to hold an event safely and successfully,” said AESF executive director Wanell Costello on Twitter.

“While we are hopeful that vaccine distribution will mean a return to normality, this temporary location gives us the ability to plan and ensure the Fair goes on no matter what,” said Jonathan Lines, AESF chairman.

The move to Wild Horse Pass can expect to exacerbate an already difficult traffic situation between the city of Maricopa and the East Valley. The last year the fair was held, in 2019, it attracted more than 1.2 million visitors, which when added to already heavy traffic around the SR347/Interstate 10/Riggs Road area, could result in massive delays, especially on heavily attended weekend days at the fair.

This year’s Arizona State Fair is slated to run from Thursday, Oct. 7 through Sunday, Oct. 31. It is among the state’s largest events in terms of attendance.

The fair has been held since 1905, but the 2020 event was canceled due to concerns about COVID-19. But with Gov. Doug Ducey removing all COVID restrictions from businesses earlier Thursday, the fair is likely to return to normal as long as there is no dramatic increase in COVID cases.

The push to bring the State Fair to Wild Horse Pass is part of a recent efforts by the Gila River Indian Community to attract more and larger events by building new facilities on their land. The Valley’s professional soccer team, the United Soccer League’s Phoenix Rising, will play in a new, permanent 10,000-seat stadium on the grounds for the first time this season. The team moved its home from its previous location in Casino Arizona Field, a “pop-up” stadium located at the northeast corner of the Loop 101 & Loop 202 in south Scottsdale. That facility had a capacity of 6,200 fans, and the team sold out 23 consecutive games there.

Wild Horse aerial Google
Aerial of Wild Horse

The soccer facility already has completed practice fields. The stadium is part of an ambitious master plan for the area that calls for 3,300 acres of development including a variety of commercial projects to be unveiled over the next decade. Highlights of the plan include an events center and concert amphitheater; up to five more hotels; a theme park; a water park; a timeshare complex; a third golf course; a dramatically expanded equestrian center, and retail and office space.

To facilitate the development and alleviate resulting traffic increases, the interested parties currently are in discussions about widening Interstate 10 to four lanes plus an HOV lane in each direction from the Interstate 17 split near Sky Harbor Airport to Loop 202. Officials also are looking at possible expansion of I-10 to three lanes from SR387 to Casa Grande which, if the 26-mile project were completed, would widen I-10 to three lanes all the way from Phoenix to Tucson.