Henry urges Metro to keep state fair in Nashville

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 11:59am

State Sen. Douglas Henry hopes city government can keep the Tennessee State Fair in Davidson County.

In a letter sent last week to Metro Councilwoman Emily Evans, Henry said he hopes the fair “can be retained in the county where the Capitol is located, since our state’s motto is Agriculture and Commerce.”

Evans, who represents Belle Meade and West Meade on the council, endorsed the longtime state senator during his heated Democratic primary battle against attorney Jeff Yarbro this summer. 

Henry also sent a copy of the letter to Mayor Karl Dean. Dean recently pulled back on plans to relocate the fairgrounds’ expo center and flea market to Antioch’s Hickory Hollow Mall, but he still seems intent on redeveloping the 117-acre fairgrounds. 

A bill sponsored by nine council members, which Dean seems to support, would keep the state fair and expo center at the fairgrounds off Nolensville Pike for another year, but move forward with demolishing the property’s racetrack to build a public park.

“A state fair in some county other than the one where the Capitol is located would not, it seems to me, be in accord with the emphasis which our state motto places upon the fine occupation of agriculture,” Henry wrote. 

A group of state agriculture and tourism leaders called the Tennessee State Fair Association had found difficulty locating new property inside Davidson County for a state fair in 2011, and told The City Paper the annual event may have to go to a peripheral county.

Presumably, the group has a better chance of finding a Davidson County state fair location for 2012.

The group is considering sites inside the county’s borders, including the former Clover Bottom Developmental Center off Lebanon Pike and Metro-owned land on County Hospital Road, as well as temporary options such as the Ellington Agricultural Center and Moss-Wright Park in Goodlettsville.

Evans, who has been critical of the mayor’s handling of the fairgrounds issue, forwarded the letter to her colleagues on the council.

“I will let the letter speak for itself as I encourage each of you to speak with the Senator about the future of the Tennessee State Fair,” Evans wrote. 

22 Comments on this post:

By: NewYorker1 on 12/14/10 at 2:31

REALLY????? Who goes to the fair? Gross. I've been once in my life and it was a horrible experience. It smelled of horrible food and cheap everything else. There was nothing there from Neiman Marcus or Bloomingdales. It was crowded and people rubbing against each other as they walked through the crowds of people. OMG.... it was a complete nightmare.

By: producer2 on 12/14/10 at 2:51

Could we ask the "State" Senator to fund the "State" Fair?

By: producer2 on 12/14/10 at 3:14

no disrespect meant to Sen. Henry as I do like him but seriously, Nashville is the only Metro Government I can find in the U. S. that supports and funds a State Fair. These are almost always supported by the State Department of Agriculture. Why is Metro spending any money at all on this? Especially since it is so light on the Agriculture side. Wouldn't it be smarter to just open a theme park?

By: fair_minded on 12/14/10 at 5:38

producer2 you need to catch up a bit to enter into this conversation ... metro has *never* paid a dime to the Fairgrounds or chipped in a penny in financial support. It's been completely self-sustaining for the past 100 years or so.

So your research is a bit off... metro gives no support to the Fair or the Fairgrounds, and in fact, for the past several years has leeched 100's of thousands of dollars each year in inflated 'service fees' from the Fairgrounds.... and on at least one occasion, hit the Fairgrounds for $4million, which it's never paid back.

And the State Department of Agriculture *does* kick in a bit for the Fair each year-- generally between $25,000 and $35,000 toward the agricultural prizes and awards.

Metro does not "support" nor "fund" the State Fair, Fairgrounds, or any activity at the Fairgrounds. The only thing metro has to do with the Fairgrounds under state legislation is their name is on the deed, since somebody's has to be.

By: producer2 on 12/14/10 at 5:53

someone or something has to pay for the operating costs. If you are correct then where do these funds come from?

By: fair_minded on 12/14/10 at 6:23

Under law, all profits from the operation of the State Fair and the Fairgrounds go to the Fair Board of Commissioners -- it's what's called an "enterprise fund" - and these are the funds that are used to pay both operating and capital expenses.

The law specifically states that the funds are under the control of the Fair Board, not Metro, which is why Metro originally came up with the "service fees" it *overcharges* to the Fairgrounds.

Currently the Fair Board of Commissioners has $1.6 million in their cash reserve and over $7million in retained earnings. The legislation and the metro charter both also give authority to the Fair Board to levy a "fair tax" on Davidson County to raise funds (although this has never been done) and also the authority to mortgage the property (currently worth $50-$60 million) for the needs of the fair operation.

From 1909 until 1923, the State Department of Agriculture operated the State Fair and leased the Fairgrounds. In 1923, they turned the operation of the State Fair over to the Davidson County Fair Board of Commissioners, along with the cash on hand, and all existing contracts (such as the racetrack lease).

The property was originally purchased with a special referendum in 1909 that authorized a bond for $150,000 to purchase property for a "permanent state fairgrounds." The property was purchased from the Cumberland Racing Association (that property was known as "Cumberland Park" at the time-- and is still marked that way on USGS maps).

check out http://fairgroundsheritage.org for a more complete history of the property-- it's also the largest tract remaining of the "original" Nashboro settlement.

The story about the Fairgrounds "costing" metro is a bit of disinformation from the administration - even their own records do not support that claim. Cash reserves are, in fact, low at the moment, but as you see from the figures above, the Fairgrounds are far from broke. The mayor and his finance director have been trying to force the Fairgrounds out of business for over 10 years, ever since Riebling was chairman of the Fair Board. And they have been doing this by leeching funds and short-circuiting any plans for improvement.

By: producer2 on 12/14/10 at 8:20

Thanks for that information. There is always two sides to the story eh!

By: fair_minded on 12/14/10 at 9:04

yes there are! thanks for listening, and don't drink any more "Karl-Aid"..... it's bad for you!

Hope we've made a convert out of you!

Most of what I stated above is documented at http://fairgroundsheritage.org

By: JeffF on 12/14/10 at 9:07

OBEs in Nashville operate under two sets of rules. Those doing the work of God (Lord Dean) are left independent and not subject to the abuses of the mayor. The others are nickeled and dimed into oblivion. I have a solution. The fair board should do what the CVB, MDHA, NES, and airport authority have done, hire Dean's friends at McNeely Piggot and Fox. Not only will Darth Dean leave them alone without oversight, he will find them some more tax revenue to cover the MP&F contract charges.

By: JeffF on 12/14/10 at 9:12

Friends of Dean and MP&F also get preemptive, glowing, and border line embarrassing commentaries in the Tennessean written by none other than Gail Kerr.

By: fair_minded on 12/14/10 at 9:16

Katy Varney, a principle partner at MP&F is a Fair Board Commissioner-- vice chair in fact. The chair is James Weaver, the dark prince lobbyist from Waller, Landsen, Dortch & Davis... how's that for stacking the deck against the public??

By: fair_minded on 12/14/10 at 9:20

check out Gail's billings at MP&F here:


By: xhexx on 12/15/10 at 7:31

Dean would probably prefer we change the state motto to "Tourists & Commerce".

By: Community-carl-... on 12/15/10 at 8:21

One thing for sure.......Dean has assembled a massive and powerful political machine that even seems to control large segments of the news media. It's a
real shame that his goals are at odds with what the vast majority of longtime local citizens want. Plain and simple, the man is a teflon-plated crooked politcian who skillfully uses his legal training and expertise to walk all over what the majority of Nashville citiizens want.

He is in the process of destroying Nashville's identity.

He must be stopped.

We must save the Fairgrounds and ALL its traditional activities.

We must make Dean a one-term mayor.

By: producer2 on 12/15/10 at 8:34

Don't pay attention to those who say I am a Dean patsy. The truth is I was very much in favor of the MCC, Dean or no Dean. It may be a news flash to some but many other people were also in favor of the project. It's really ok to have opposing opinions. To this day I have still not met the Mayor in person or ever discussed his political agenda.

Before I moved to Nashville in 1993, I worked for several years at a company that produced entertainment at numerous State Fairs around the US. I spent many summers at the MO., Iowa, KY, LA, and IL State Fairs. I also spent many days at the TN Fairs and Festivals convention that was routinely held at the Loews Hotel. I am not an expert by any means but I do have some working knowledge of State Fairs and how they operate. It is my opinion that the current setup in Nashville lacks many of the things that make a true State Fair great. I know nothing about flea markets or other events of the like so I cannot comment on them. If the argument to keep the facility is based solely on a State Fair, then in my opinion you are doing the State a disservice by trying to put a round peg in a square hole.

By: orangey on 12/15/10 at 9:32

Kentucky's state fair is held in Louisville, not the state capital, Frankfort. Makes no sense to have an agricultural fair in the urban core of Nashville.

By: producer2 on 12/15/10 at 9:37

I think facilities (including hotels, etc. for those coming from distances) is the main reason that Louisville hosts the KY State Fair. The facility is one of the best in the US for these type of events. But there are many that are held in the Capitol City.

By: CrimesDown on 12/15/10 at 11:56

Metro loved being in charge of the fair. If the state had been in charge, Metro couldn't have leached money from the fair board. If the fair, fairgrounds and racetrack had been handled better, they would be thriving. It would have taken inept politicians keeping their greasy hands out of it though.

They would all still be in the black if they hadn't intentionally been sucked dry and left to flounder.

Who says government can't run anything? They run almost everything they get involved in, into the ground.

By: MAmom on 12/15/10 at 1:23

producer2 is familiar with Fairs, but not the other events.

Historically all kinds of events have been held at the Fairgrounds all year round. Besides the State Fair and racing - the Fairgrounds are a gathering place for many other activities.

The NCDC study says on page 85: "All in all, the State Fairgrounds is considered to be an asset to the community. Many popular events such as the Tennessee State Fair (in September) and the monthly Flea Market are enjoyed by both neighborhood residents and people from across the region."

This weekend is the December Flea Market (Dec. 17, 18, 19). Hundreds of vendors (i.e.: small businessmen) set up with all kinds of wares. Thousands usually attend. It has been COLD this week - so maybe the attendance may be down this month - but you should be see it in the Spring and Fall!

Last week there were several events held there:
(1) a Toy Train Show
(2) the Mid-TN Jewelry, Gem, Fossil and Mineral Show
(3) Project Connect - where more than 40 service providers who assisted homeless and individuals and families in need participated in the one-day event. Participants from Davidson County received medical care, job and housing assistance as well as other support. Approiximately 1500 people were helped.

Other upcoming events are:
1) 12/21-12/23 - Central Liquidators Sale
2) 1/8 - 1/9 - Bill Godman's Gun & Knife Shows
3) 1/15-1/16 - Nashville Auto Fest

Other Fairground users:
1) When there are EMERGENCIES, like in the Flood earlier this year, emergency personnel utilize the Fairgrounds. When there have been large animal rescues, animals have been brought to the Fairgrounds for care and lodging. If there is ever a big emergency in Nashville, it would be invaluable to have a site like the Fairgrounds available for victims and responders.
2) When the park is built along the creek - it will complement all the other activities - and the grounds will have that much more utility for the public.
The Fairgrounds supports itself with revenues from the Fair, Flea Markets and Expo events. Fairgrounds revenues will be down this year because:
1) of the downturn in the economy (which has affected almost everybody),
2) DELIBERATE SABOTAGE by Metro government - expo vendors have been not been able to lease future events at the Fairgrounds - many of those shows - and the money that would have come to Davidson County - now go to Williamson & Wilson County.
3) racers were only given permission to have 5 events this year.

Tearing down the racetrack is especially relevant because the financial situation of the Fairgrounds is analogous to a 3-legged stool, if you knock out one leg - the stool will fall. Dean, or people working for him, have been strangling racing for awhile, and now in the upcoming bill he wants to DESTROY the racetrack. That way there will be no more revenues from that event. Dean has also said Flea market/Expo and Fair events will only be allowed to be at the Fairgrounds one (1) more year.

And when are no more revenues - if he gets the Council's blessing - Dean will be able to destroy the community place that the Fairgrounds are. And those events which have historically been held at the Fairgrounds - will be without a home.
The whole Fairgrounds "redevelopment" topic should be re-evaluated since:
1) Dean stacked the Fair Board with people who mismanaged the Fairgrounds and then "handed over the keys" to him.
2) Several of these have the "appearance of impropriety".
3) His "Fairgrounds Task Force" was stacked with "redevelopment" proponents and his flunkees. Most attendees of the meetings were not happy with the report.
4) Dean controls Fairgrounds reporting by the Tennessean - so his less-than-honorable behavior is not reported. This has shut-down conversation about Fairgrounds "redevelopment" - until recently.
5) There are other locations business where businesses could build in Nashville.
6) The financials look "funny" and details need to be analyzed,
6) Most Nashvillians do not want "redevelopment".
Fairgrounds information can be found at:

Please sign the petition at:
Ask yourself - in the future - what will mean more to Nashvillians - another block of characterless development - or a commons area-park-fair-racetrack-fleamarket-expo area - that all Nashvillians can enjoy?

If you care about the Fairgrounds, please attend the Metro Council meeting on 12/21, at 6pm. Let the Council know how you feel.



By: producer2 on 12/15/10 at 2:44

Is there a way to see the actual profit and loss data?

By: MAmom on 12/15/10 at 2:56

Links to the financials are on the nashville.gov website. These are governmental financial statements - so sort of awkward to use. You have to drive to the section of the financials which contain results for the "enterprise" assets - then search for "Fair" to find their results.


Haven't had time to look at the latest financials yet. Did notice in the stats that for some reason FTEs went up in 2007 - after having been flat for several years.

By: FleaFlam on 12/15/10 at 3:33

I've been attending F.G. events for more than 40 years. During much of that time Nashville's flea market has been cited by various publications as being one of the BEST in the country. MANY flea market vendors will tell you Nashville is THE best such market that they do - this despite aging facilities and chronic neglect.

100's of vendors both part-and full-time DEPEND on flea market income. Add to this several thousand Expo event dealers, concessionaries and fairground employees (also antique and collectible sellers for whom Buying at the F.G. is an important part of their business) and you can see how many people would have been adversely affected by the comic proposal to move these events to H.H. Mall.

Fairground users might not mind a move to a Comparable or Better location, but currently, THERE IS NO SUCH PLACE!

At a time of dire economic need it seems obvious that Dean&Co care very little or nothing for the livelihoods of the small business people that could be negatively affected by such a move. So why are they doing this?

When I first looked at this issue a couple of years ago I thought mayor Dean probably had good intentions but was simply misguided. Since then many of us have grown quite cynical of his motives.

The Fairground has been portrayed as a failure. This is a lie and a red herring engineered by Dean&Co and given credence by the Tennessean. His latest plan is a classic bit of misdirection David Copperfield would be proud of: call a "timeout" while proceeding full-speed ahead with the planned destruction of the raceway!

With the Tennessean firmly in Dean's camp (an endorsement of the ridiculous H.H. move and a dearth of opposing articles), who is investigating possible improprieties or conflicts-of-interest by people like Weaver, Riebeling, or other Dean cronies? (Or coercion by Dean of Metro Council members?). It seems that unethical (and probably illegal) activity abounds!

Thanks to the City Paper at least for giving us a forum. The Tennessean does have a website but has virtually shut down discussion in it's Letters-to-the-Editor on this subject, giving the impression that there is no controversy or opposition to the mayor, or that the question is settled (far from it).

Assuming we're mistaken about all this WHAT IS GAINED by Dean's plan? Possibly more tax revenues and $$$ from a 1-time sale of the property (to be used how???). The mayor has not disclosed his plans AND secrecy in such dealings often means there is something to hide!

If Dean gets his way WHAT IS LOST? History, cultural diversity, the State Fair, the raceway, the monthly flea market, some 250 Expo events (down by 60-70 for 2011 -frightened away by uncertainty!). Also lost - a known $50- to 60-million-dollar economic impact on the local economy!

In short - a public commons that has served the Nashville area well for more than a century in a variety of capacities and is used by people from all walks of life.

Is this REALLY worth trading for another (fill-in-the-blank) office park, corporate campus, strip mall, boondoggle, etc???