Shawn Loter was directing cars in the parking lot at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds when he was 13.

The day he graduated from high school, he went to work full time at the fair.

In 2006, he was named maintenance manager.

Today, at 42, Loter is in charge of the whole outfit.

On Jan. 1, he took over for the retiring, longtime general manager, Bob Fox.

"It's definitely a smooth transition with me taking over," Loter said Monday. "I ran the whole outside for Bob, so it's been pretty easy for me."

Although Fox has made himself available on a consulting basis, he will not be in Davenport this week for the fair. He and his wife, Carol, have moved to Arizona, and Loter said there's no need for Fox to hold his hand.

The pair teamed up to book the shows for this year's fair, and Loter said, "The entertainment part is not that hard.

"Most people don't know how it works. They'll ask, 'Why don't you get so-and-so?' We get a list of the bands that are available, and that's what we have to work with. We're fortunate, because some of the acts go on to the state (fair) from here, so they are available, and you can get a deal."

Popular acts such as Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood now are fetching $1 million each, he said, and the fair doesn't have that kind of budget.

"We need to keep those Fair (Fun) Cards reasonable," he said. "If you go to hard-ticket sales, and people have to shell out 65 bucks for one show, that's too much for people to pay."

Although Loter intends to follow Fox's pattern of keeping costs low for fair-goers, he is shaking things up elsewhere.

"The difference between now and last year is that all I had to worry about was out there," he said, pointing to a window in his office. "Now I'm responsible for all of it. I'm a little nervous this year, and I've never been nervous before."

While he's confident in his fair-leadership abilities, Loter said he's not all that sure his ideas will be wholly embraced.

"I moved some tents, picked up some new vendors, and I changed the system for sponsors," he said. "Some people don't like it, because it's change.

"It's time to freshen up all the acts. It's been getting a little stagnant — doing the same thing for 20 years. But we're all a big family and a big team. That's why everything works so well."

A few changes that fairgoers are most likely to notice are: A selfie booth and related contest that are tied to the fair's Facebook page; credit/debit cards finally are accepted; and concertgoers no longer will be permitted to bring chairs into the grandstands. The recent overhaul of the twin towers at the main gate is likely to get lots of attention. While the renovation has been "on the list for many years," Loter said, he pushed the project to the front of the list when he took over.

"We should have had a credit-card system several years ago," he said. "As far as the chairs go, a group would come in and make a half-moon with their bag chairs to save places for their friends, and it led to fights.

"After this year, people will be fine (with the ban). It's that change again that people don't like."

One thing both Loter and Fox would jump at the chance to change some years is the weather. In the fair business, weather can make or break you.

"I look at the weather on my phone about every hour during the day," he said, adding that he will work 18-hour days during the fair. "I like a good rain shower in the morning, because it keeps the dust down. My goal is to have more attendance during the day, so you want good weather.

"You can't let the worry get to you. If you're having a bad day, you leave it at the gate."

One of Loter's changes at the fair is happening behind closed doors.

"There are no more 10-minute board meetings," he said. "Now, we're at it for an hour-and-a-half. There's a lot I want to keep our board aware of.

"Plus, I feed them."

And Loter said he already has formed a committee to come up with big ideas for the fair's 100th birthday in 2019. He said he's sure he'll still be here by then but will have to continue to prove himself.

"It's going to be a huge year, probably fireworks after every concert and lots of giveaways," he said of 2019. "I don't know whether I'll be here as long as Bob. If I live that long, I'll be here.

"I only have a two-year contract, though, so I have to do a good job."

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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