The Metro Board of Fair Commissioners Tuesday morning approved a new offer to the Tennessee State Fair Association, in what would appear to be a last ditch effort to keep the 2013 state fair in Davidson County.
Lease negotiations between the fair board and the TSFA — the nonprofit selected by a new state fair commission to operate this year’s event — had reached an impasse, raising the possibility that the fair could take place outside of Davidson County for the first time in over a century.
The primary sticking point between the two groups had been over the split of ticket prices, a difference of about $50,000 dollars in revenue that would go to Metro. Under the terms of the board’s newly approved offer, Metro would receive $2.25 per ticket sold for the first 50,000, and $3.75 after that. The offer also states that the TSFA will request the release of state grant money to be put toward improvements at the fairgrounds. The offer will be on the table until Feb. 13, providing enough time for the TSFA board to meet. If they reject the offer, fair board chairman Ned Horton said, “All bets are off.”
“We’ve been going round and round with this for months,” he told The City Paper after the meeting. “I think they’re being stubborn, and we need to get beyond it and work together. I think you can tell, all interested parties are worn out by this delayed process. We’ve been proactive, we’ve tried to have meetings, we’ve tried to push forward, and where they get their operating funding is not our issue at this point. We need to be on the same page.”
The board also has a standing offer from Delta Agribusiness out of Memphis, and if the TSFA rejects the latest proposal Horton said they “potentially” might entertain that option. For now, he said they must work with the TSFA, which has been charged with operating this year’s state fair. The two sides disagree about whether a state law passed last year negated the legal requirement for Metro to host the Tennessee State Fair.
TSFA chairman John Rose said he couldn’t speculate about how the TSFA board would react to the latest offer, but that the new terms pushed the organization’s budget “to the breaking point.”
“It leaves us for so little room for error, and our fiduciary duty is to not go broke,” he said. “While we can do everything we can do to make the fair more viable, and more profitable, we’re limited by the reality that we face on that.”
During the board meeting, Commissioner Kenny Byrd questioned Rose about the nonprofit's finances and how much money they truly had available to them. In an effort to keep the state fair in Davidson County, Byrd said, he was agreeable to lease terms shy of the fair board’s desired amount of $200,000. But if the TSFA rejected the latest offer, he said he needed to understand why.