For those who think that the public voted in a referendum to save the fairground and that settles it, they are wrong. The public referendum simply said it would take 27 metro council votes to close the fairgrounds instead of a simple majority. The future of the fairground is still up in the air.
The mayor wanted to sell the fairground and turn the site into a corporate headquarters campus. The attempt to sell the fairgrounds caused great uncertainty about the future of the site and caused loss of revenue to support the fairground operations. While previously the fairgrounds never had to have a subsidy, now they need $600,000. A cynic might say, they were set up to fail.
Since the fairground referendum, the council hired a consultant to advise them on alternative policies for the site. That study stacked the deck to make closing the fairground and turning the site into a mixed use development appear to be a better option rather than improving and keeping the fairgrounds. There has now emerged another option. A private entity has proposed a long-term lease of the fairground and pledged to make physical improvements to the site and keep all of the existing functions. I hope that this third option is pursed.
In the meantime, Metro continues to operate the fairgrounds but no longer operates the State Fair. For those interested in the future of the fairgrounds, they need to be informed and understand the issues. Below is the Mayor's Fairground budget hearing.
Buck Dozier, Executive Director of the Fairgrounds makes the budget presentation. Below is a summary of the hearing:
There are ten racing events a year at the fairgrounds, and the manger of fairground racing regularly meets with nearby neighborhood groups and has a good relationship with the community. Charging the $5 fee for parking has not hurt attendance at events. The current food vendor's contract is expiring soon and an RFP for a food vendor will go out soon. With a new food vendor and contract there should be a considerable enhancement of revenue. The heating and air conditioning and grounds is our "greatest challenge" said Mr. Dozier. State Fair is no longer ran by Metro. Dozier discusses the dueling offers to run the fairgrounds.
Attendance at the State Fair was up 10% last year. Racing attendance is up. The quality of the races is up. Formosa is doing a good job.
The flea market attendance is up 5% above last year. There are opportunities for improving the flea market by providing entertainment and better food options.
Our facilities cannot attract the best commercial trade shows. Uncertainty about the future of the fairgrounds hurts marketing.
The budget request is for $3.1million with anticipated revenues of $2.5 million. The fairgrounds has drawn down its reserve fund balance and no longer has a rainy day fund from which to draw. This is only the second time the fair board has asked for money from the general fund to offset the operating deficit. "When everything settles down," says Dozier, "I think the fairgrounds can make a profit." Dozier stresses that "the uncertainty" of the future of the fairgrounds is hurting the fairgrounds. Much business was lost due to vendors thinking the fairgrounds was closing. Corporate sales will still be hurt without certainty since many vendors want to book events three to five years out.
For more insight into understanding the fairground issues, follow this link.