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PHOENIX -- Opening weekend of the Arizona State Fair is over, and while this year's fair continues, there remain questions whether the fair can grow and have a future at its site near downtown.

The 96 acres of Arizona State Fairgrounds are located at the corner of McDowell Road and Grand and 19th avenues. The location is bounded by thousands of homes and the public Encanto Golf Course.

State Fair Assistant Executive Director Christy Walsh said the size of the fairgrounds has not been a problem. "We are one of the highest-attended state fairs on the smallest pieces of land," Walsh said. "Every inch of our grounds is utilized and maximized. We do as much as we can with the space that we have."

The 128-year-old Arizona State Fair started as the Arizona Territorial Fair in November 1884. The fairgrounds were located near the Salt River, west of Central Avenue. They were destroyed when the river flooded in 1891.

The Arizona Territorial Fair Association was formed to revive the fair, and purchased the current location for $9,200 in 1905.

Its acreage is small compared with other state fairs that are on around 300 acres. In 2003, the Phoenix Planning Department and the Encanto Village planning committee explored the idea of moving the fairgrounds and using that land to expand the golf course.

The city could not afford the $50 million that it would have take to move the fair.

Walsh said that fair officials would love to have more room for expansion, but there's an advantage to keeping the fair where it is.

"The beauty of our location is that we're right between Interstates 10 and 17, so it's very easily accessed from all sides of the Valley," she said. "We're so close to downtown that it really represents the heart of the state."

The fair, which is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, runs through Nov. 3.

Bob McClay, Reporter

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