Friday marks the end of an era at the Erie County Fairgrounds. Dennis Lang, who has worked as CEO and Fair Manager since 1999, is retiring.
Lang tells WBFO it had been planned since May. He is credited for leading the Hamburg Fairgrounds into steady financial shape, with the introduction of state-sanctioned gaming that, in turn, raised revenue to help upgrade buildings and produce off-season programming.
"Obviously the Fair is a great Western New York event but it's only 12 days," Lang said. "We've worked very hard at trying to develop off what I call off-season revenue, or non-fair revenue. When the state came across with allowing race tracks to have slot machines, or video lottery terminals as they're referred to, I was very instrumental in pushing the board to go in that direction."
The money earned by those slots helped the Hamburg Fairgrounds upgrade its existing facilities. The grounds now host numerous educational events in the off-season, including "farm to table" programs for children. There are also agricultural shows, even an occasional wedding as Lang noted.
Another challenge he looks back on is finding the balance between keeping the fair fresh year to year, without losing some of the traditions and favorites that have created lasting memories for generations of guests.
"People have met their spouses here. They've had their first experience with a thrill show or a carnival ride," Lang said. "The memories are critical, so you can't get too far away from the basic principles of the Fair. But you also have to be innovative, with new technology, new acts, new entertainment and a new venue."
Some might consider one of his shining moments the leadership needed to help the Fair prepare to open on schedule, three weeks after a tornado blew through the community.
Jessica Underberg, his longtime assistant, will assume the job on October 1st. Lang will remain on the Erie County Agricultural Society board of directors.