Nods to the past align with the technology of the future at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds

(Photo by Jennifer Brizzi)

In the Hudson Valley, ag still rules! A big early-20th-century barn has popped up at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, reminding passersby on Route 9 that there’s much more there than the midway at the annual Dutchess County Fair. A grand salute to the county’s agricultural roots comes in the form of an attractive pseudo-early-20th-century Welcome Center featuring a state-of-the-art ticketing technology that will streamline the entry of the Aug. 22-27 fair’s 300,000 guests, along with thousands who attend the many other events held on the site.

From afar the new structure on the 147-acre fairgrounds looks like just another of many barns that dot our rural landscape. As you get closer, you see that the imposing red barn makes for a grand entrance indeed. In days past, you may have been confused about just how to enter the fairgrounds after you’d parked in the vast parking area. With several entrances in the form of small plain booths, it wasn’t clear just how to get inside other than by following the crowds.

Now there is no doubt. The new barn-like building draws the visitor through a large main room with huge double doors at each end flanked by many ticket booths — evocative of horse stalls — whose modern fiber-optic ticketing apparatus can spit out a ticket a second. Though recent improvements on Route 9 have made getting on-site much faster, the old ticketing system just couldn’t keep up.

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General manager Andrew Imperati extolled the virtues of the new building at a May 3 ribbon-cutting. “When you’re a business there’s nothing worse than having people stand outside your facility with their hands in their pockets,” he said. “We want them inside the facility taking the stuff in their pockets out.”

Some may feel the new streamlined ticketing process detracts from the fair’s “flavor,” he added. “The reality is we’re all getting older, and that generation coming from behind us, they don’t care about that.” They just want to use their smart phones and make the process quick.

The process began with planning meetings two years ago. Local contractors were brought on board. Except for a Pennsylvania architect, Dutchess County businesses did everything else, from the site work to the landscaping. The project finally began to take shape in November of last year when construction began.

 

On its opening day Friday, May 5, the new Welcome Center was put to the test at the Rhinebeck Antique Car Show & Swap Meet. Inside the building, high ceilings and walls made of raw wood remind you you’re in a barn, with two majestic chandeliers custom-made made on-site from steel John Deere tractor wheels. To further drive home the agricultural focus of the fairgrounds, tall banners on the walls hail agricultural industries from beef to milk.

The floor is made of six inches of concrete stamped to look like hardwood, with a rough surface to avoid slipperiness. As you move through the Welcome Center and out the huge back doors, elegant landscaping leads you gently into the noise and tumult and excitement of the county fair, the second largest agricultural event in New York State. Before you even get to the barns of farm animals, the 4-H exhibits or the stunning horticultural exhibits, you’ve been reminded that the fair is about agriculture, the lifeblood of rural America.

The fairgrounds also hosts many other popular events like car shows, a sheep-and-wool festival, crafts and antique shows, charity runs and events, and more. It hosts a helipad for emergency rescues. Until a few years ago the fairgrounds was the headquarters of the village police.

An antique village is planned that will depict area life in the 1800s.

According to Dutchess Tourism’s communication director, Nancy Lutz, 18 tourist information centers are supplied with brochures boasting 536 listings. Dutchess Tourism distributes 90,000 brochures annually, says Lutz. The operation is financed by a four percent county hotel occupancy tax. Effective March 1, Airbnb has been collecting and remitting that percentage to Dutchess County government for the bookings on its platform.

The new Welcome Center promises to reinforce the combination of past and present that is the appeal of the Rhinebeck fairgrounds and the county fair itself. “You’re not only transforming the entrance,” Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro said at the ribbon-cutting, “you’re transforming the experience.”

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