State Fair Contract Signed with Less Than Three Months to Opening

The State Fair Board today granted a contract to produce the event to year-old, not-for-profit company. But they’ve got less than three months to produce.

The board had two years of setbacks – the 2009 fair wasn’t profitable, and ever since, Metro Government has wavered between cancelling it and saying it’s back on while openly considering shutting down the fairgrounds all together.

In January, Metro Council voted that there should be a 2011 fair, but that it must be run by a non- profit, and it must make money for the city.

John Rose is chairman of the Tennessee State Fair Association. He says the group isn’t afraid of the short organizing time before the September event. He says they had already scheduled, and had to cancel, a meeting of fair workers and volunteers.

“Prior to today, we had no way of calling those resources to bear, the people, the volunteers. We’ll have to have some paid staff. And so it’s going to be, now, a challenge in less than 90 days to put all this back together again.”

The association promised the city fifty thousand dollars, and a per-head bonus for each attendee after the first fifty thousand through the gate. The board chose Rose’s group over Delta Ag-Business, which bid two hundred and fifty thousand for the chance to run the fair.

The board determined that several persons claimed by Delta to be members of its board had reported they weren’t connected to the company.

Livestock officials told the board that’s it’s already too late for some of the prestigious livestock shows that traditionally use the fair as a venue. Several have already made plans to go elsewhere.

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Board Chair Katy Varney says the board is bound by considerations enacted into law by the sponsoring local government.

“This has been a controversy because we’ve been directed by Metro Council to fulfill two obligations. One is to give the fair to… contract to a company which is a not-for profit. And the ordinance actually outlines Tennessee State Fair Association, or another suitable not-for-profit. And we’re directed not to lose money.”

One of the on-going controversies about the fair is whether it stays in South Nashville, at the site of the old motor speedway, or should be moved to another county. Several counties around Davidson have their eye on the opportunity.

Part of the opposition to the TSFA getting the contract came from operators and merchants of the monthly Nashville Flea Market, who have been concerned about plans to convert the property to another use if the state fair moves away.

Rose, a lawyer and a farmer from DeKelb County, says his organization would be OK with moving elsewhere, but that’s not their first choice.

“Our board has had a long-standing position, publicly, stated this many times, that we believe the Tennessee State Fair should be in the capital city of the state.”

Rose says his group actually directed part of the fair – the non-rides part – in 2010.

“Last year the Metro Fair Board contracted with a carnival operator, North American Midway, to have a carnival here. And the carnival operator decided it would be more successful if it looked like it was still the Tennessee State Fair, so they came to us, and asked our group if we would be willing to produce the agricultural and creative arts elements of the fair. And so in a limited capacity, working with a very limited budget, and with about the same amount of time that we’re going to have this year, we managed to put together the fair in 2010.”

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