Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Farewell to the Tennessee State Fair

by Rod Williams - This year the Tennessee State Fair will be combined with the Wilson County Fair and will take place Aug. 12-21 in Lebanon at the James E. Ward Agriculture Center. This is still subject to approval by the state legislature and approval by Gov. Bill Lee but there is little doubt that will happen. Gov. Bill Lee allocated $5.3 million in his proposed budget to move the fair to Lebanon and to fund improvements to facilities and upgrades to road and traffic infrastructure. 

Wilson County will still have Wilson County-only events and competitions in addition to State Fair exhibits and State competitions. The Wilson County Fair regularly draws about half a million people and is considered one of the top county fairs in the country. This will be the first time since World War II that there has not been a Tennessee State Fair held in Nashville. 

Last year, due to COVID-19  concerns the fair was closed but still had some events in Nashville but was not open to the public. In closing the Fair to the public last year State Fair Manager Scott Jones noted that in addition to Covid-19 concerns, an additional challenge of hosting the fair on the Nashville Fairgrounds site was the fact that the midway footprint had been reduced in size in order to make way for the construction of the new MLS stadium. 

When the MLS stadium was approved, the loss of the State Fair was predictable.  This is a sad loss for Nashville but good for the State Fair.  The Nashville State fair site is only 117 acres of land while the James E. Ward Agriculture Center is 267 acres. With the MLS stadium taking up a large chunk of that 117 acres and several acres cut out of the fairground footprint and given to the MLS developers, the loss of the State Fair was almost inevitable. The site is simply no longer suitable for a state fair.

It did not have to be this way, we could have expanded the site and located the MLS stadium elsewhere, and saved and improved the site.  Even prior to the MLS stadium the Fairgrounds was small. There was no room for an equestrian feature which most successful State Fairs have. Our State Fair has never had the prestige of many other state fairs. I like the idea of the State Fair being in the state's capital city, but Lebanon is probably a better fit. 

There has always been an element in Nashville that was embarrassed by County music, Gun and Knife shows, flea markets, stock car racing, fairs, and our southern and rural identity. They wanted Nashville to be "Athens of the South;" not "Music City, USA.  With an influx of rootless, progressive, Millenials who also share some of the same contempt for our Tennessee values and identities as the old elitist genteel Nashvillians, the old Nashville was doomed. Starting in 2013 when Mayor Dean proposed redeveloping the site as a residential and office park, many city leaders were determined to drive the State Fair from Nashville.  They succeeded. It happened.

While I regret Nashville's loss of the State Fair, it is probably for the best for the State Fair.

For more on the loss of the State Fair and long-time effort to save the fairgrounds, as reported in this blog, see this link. For more on this most recent development see this link, this link, this link, and this link


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