West Allis -- Preparations are all in place for the hundreds of thousands of people headed to the Wisconsin State Fair, including metal detectors at entrances and lighting on busy 85th Street where many fair-goers park.
The fair will be Aug. 4-14.
Heightened security has been on the minds of fair officials for months. For the first time, they have instituted metal detectors at entrances. Large groups of people have become terrorist targets, and fair officials don't want an incident here, they said.
Similarly, the West Allis police have brought back bicycle patrols around the fair's perimeter and in surrounding neighborhoods. The object isn't to avert terrorism, but to head off any developing problems, said Deputy Police Chief Robert Fletcher. Officers on bicycles can interact better with neighbors and get tips as to what is going on, he said.
Getting ready for the influx of upwards of a million people into the city in the brief 11 days of the fair is never easy, but this year presented some real challenges. One of those challenges was getting 85th Street ready for the hundreds of fair-goers who take up the invitations of homeowners to park on lawns and where thousands cruise looking for street parking.
With the thoroughfare being reconstructed this year, it was in danger of being completely dark because its street lights weren't supposed to be powered up again until after the fair. Firing up the streetlights was the last step in the reconstruction.
With visions of hordes of fair-goers trying to find their way back to their cars in the dark, the city engineering department swung into action. It persuaded We Energies to move the energizing project up about three weeks, so the lights would be on by fair time. City officials are thankful that We Energies was able to help out, with workmen hooking up the power Monday and Tuesday.
If We Energies had not been able to come through, the city's fallback plan was using a generator to get the lights on, said Alderman Michael May in whose district the fair is located. He was glad that didn't have to happen, he said.
"It would have had to be next to somebody's house and generators are loud," May said.
"Kudos to our engineering department," for making a strong case to We Energies, May said.
Also in the just-in-the-nick of time category is the climbable curbs being ready on 85th Street. With the street reconstruction, residents paid extra to have low curbs that cars can climb to get onto lawns. Residents sell parking on their lawns to fair-goers.
Thanks to good weather meaning no construction delays, the low curbs are in, May said. However, because the grass next to the new curbs is still young and tender, residents were put on notice that if the new grass is damaged by cars rolling over it, homeowners will have to restore it, May said.
The bottom line is that 85th Street is ready, he said.
Also pleased are officials at the Hampton Inn & Suites Milwaukee West that opened in November at 82nd Street and Greenfield Avenue across from the fair. They had hoped to have a full house at fair time and they do.
"We will be full for the fair," declared Eric Berglund, assistant general manager. In fact he said, "We've been very busy throughout the summer."
The hotel sits on a large chunk of vacant land that was used for about four years by the city's high school athletic booster clubs to raise money by selling parking at fair time. The hotel land parking was in addition to the parking the clubs offered at the West Allis City Hall.
"We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for high school sports," said Alderman Marty Weigel who coordinated the effort that involved volunteers from just about all the sports teams at both high schools. They split the parking money, with the teams using their shares for such things as uniforms and equipment.
Last year, the booster clubs could not park cars there because the hotel was under construction and this year, the hotel is open. However the clubs are grateful for having had the extra revenue for a short time, Weigel said.
"We didn't think we would get four years out of it," he said.
The booster clubs are continuing to offer parking at the city hall, 7525 W. Greenfield Ave.
To guard against a recurrence of the flash mob of juveniles that resulted injuries and arrests five years ago, West Allis police continue to take special precautions, Fletcher said.
"Our crime analyst will be working during the fair, and we are in contact with the Milwaukee police fusion center that disseminates information," he said. In addition, West Allis will continue to have an officer assigned to the command center inside the fair so the West Allis police outside the fair know what issues have developed inside, Fletcher said. The fair's own police handle security inside the fair.