11/19/2003 1:00AM

Lincoln: Donations help State Fair

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The financial troubles of the Nebraska State Fair were eased somewhat last week when donations from the private sector helped raise the more than $400,000 needed to meet operating expenses by a mid-November deadline.

The Nebraska State Fair Board, which oversees all operations on the state fair grounds property, had given the fair a deadline to either raise the money or present a plan to cease operations at the facility. The State Fair still carries a debt of more than $1.1 million and is working on a long-term financial plan.

Thoroughbred racing is held at the fair grounds during the summer, and simulcasting is conducted throughout the year. Both were in jeopardy due to the State Fair's financial troubles. Pledging support last week was Omaha Exposition and Racing, which operates Horsemen's Park, owned by the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Through Omaha Exposition and Racing, the horsemen's group donated $150,000 to help ensure the fair's operating ability in 2004. Horse racing continues to show a profit at State Fair Park, but it no longer provides the State Fair with the same level of funding it did during the boom days of the 1980's and early 90's.

The State Fair received other donations, including $75,000 from the Nebraska 4-H Foundation and a $193,000 deficit appropriation from the state of Nebraska for maintenance and upkeep of the grounds for the next six months. The state would have to shoulder that financial outlay anyway if the State Fair were to cease operations.