The 2011 Tennessee State Fair came and went –– and fewer people noticed than in the past.
In what state fair organizers acknowledge are “down” attendance figures, 100,445 trips were made to the now-concluded 10-day event, according to information provided to The City Paper. The “un-audited” numbers, tallied through Sunday at 8:30 p.m., did not include advanced ticket sales at area Kroger grocery stores.
Though numbers aren’t official, it is clear fewer people in 2011 walked through the fairgrounds gates than last year, when organizers counted 247,000 total trips. Last year’s figure came from a different fair operator, which likely arrived at the number through a different calculation.
Still, state fair spokeswoman Emily Fletcher estimated ticket sales were down between 10 and 20 percent this year. Approximately 58,000 to 60,000 tickets were sold this year, compared to an estimated 66,000 to 75,000 in 2010.
The drop follows a year when saving the fairgrounds was one of the dominant political themes in Nashville as Mayor Karl Dean unsuccessfully pursued the redevelopment of the 117-acre fairgrounds property. The mantra continued leading up to the passage of a Metro charter amendment through public referendum making it more difficult to redevelop the site.
But the Tennessee State Fair Association –– the group tapped to host this year’s fair –– says it was handicapped because of the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners’ late decision in awarding the state fair contract. Because of uncertainty over the future of the fairgrounds –– and confusion over the bid of a competitor fair operator –– the state fair association did not come on board until this summer.
“Most state fairs have nine months to a year to plan and put on the event,” the state fair association said in a news release. “With only 65 days, we’re proud to have opened our gates for a 2011 State Fair.”
John Rose, who chairs the state fair association, suggested the politics surrounding the fairgrounds added more challenges.
“Just the ongoing uncertainty of the last two years, I think, has little by little crept up on us,” Rose said.
“What I’ve seen as I’ve looked at the numbers this year is that every time we lose an event or a show –– that takes people away,” Rose said. “So, we lost a number of livestock events that had to go to other fairs because they simply couldn’t wait to see whether or not we were going to come through.”
In the same media release, fair organizers said they delivered a “quality fair” despite the limited time frame, citing that participants in various events came from 18 states, as well as overseas.