The fair board found itself in another sticky position Friday before it ultimately opted against instituting a parking fee for the 2011 Tennessee State Fair, which would have jeopardized the interest of the group running the event just two months before it begins in September.
The Metro Board of Fair Commissioners in June awarded a lease to run the upcoming fair to a non-profit group of state political and agriculture leaders known as the Tennessee State Fair Association. The organization is paying the city $50,000, plus $1 dollar for every ticket sold over 50,000.
Still unclear had been whether the fair board would apply a $5 parking fee to those attending the September event, which would supply the fair board much-needed revenue. Since July 1, the fairgrounds staff has been charging a fee for other events.
But the association didn’t sign its contract with the understanding that the fee would apply to the fair. They worried an additional expense for patrons would result in fewer people attending the event. In the end, the board sided with the association.
“We owe it to the city and the citizens to do our best to make sure that there is a fair,” fair commissioner Charles Sueing said. “I don’t want to see that not happen because we got hung up on some contract negotiations.”
The board’s vote went against the request of state fair Executive Director Buck Dozier, who said the fairgrounds needed the parking fee revenue to make the property financially stable.
“To do that, you need to be realistic,” Dozier told the board prior to its vote. “I’m sure we can find some event in town that doesn’t have parking fees, but not many.
“To put this place on a sound financial basis, and not play games anymore out here like we’ve done for so many years, that is the reason for us to implement this,” he said.
But John Rose, who chairs the Tennessee State Fair Association, said his group had conducted research that suggested charging for parking would be a deterrent to attendance.
Every dollar charged to visitors for parking would reduce the state fair attendance by 5,000 people, he said, which would put the association back to the “drawing board” in determining whether the state fair could be viable.
“We concluded we were better off not to not nickel and dime our potential customers with a parking charge, then a gate charge, then a ride charge” Rose said.