Metro’s first-ever fairgrounds subsidy key to facility’s future

Monday, March 26, 2012 at 6:47pm

Faced with thinning reserve funds, Tennessee State Fair Director Buck Dozier is hoping for $245,000 in Metro dollars to sustain operations, an allocation that would represent the city’s first-ever fairgrounds subsidy.

Revenue collected from fairgrounds events –– the annual state fair, auto-racing events and flea markets –– has historically provided the financial backing to run the city-owned fairgrounds. But Dozier told Mayor Karl Dean and his administration Monday that the fairgrounds would need to find a place within Metro’s operating budget to ensure its short-term welfare.

“Our reserves have been dwindling for years, so our estimate is our reserves will come to an end next year,” Dozier said. “The only way to keep it open is to do like other departments do –– the Municipal Auditorium, the Farmers’ Market –– and ask for something that we work hard to draw down to where hopefully we don’t have to have one. But right now, we do.”

Dozier made his request Monday during the first day of the mayor’s annual budget hearings, as Dean prepares to propose a budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Dozier’s plea creates some fascinating dynamics. Dean’s administration fought unsuccessfully more than a year ago to redevelop the 117-acre fairgrounds property. It ended with a rare Metro Council defeat for the mayor, capped off when Davidson County voters in August voted overwhelmingly to support the status quo at the fairgrounds in a public referendum.

Now Dean’s administration will have to weigh whether the fairgrounds –– a facility they’ve roundly criticized in the past –– is worthy of taxpayer dollars.

“The fairgrounds has always lived off its reserve funds and its operations,” Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said. “This would be the first time that a formal request to the government has been made for a subsidy of the operations.

“We’re going to take a hard look at it,” he said. “It’s been a stand-alone entity for its history, and now that’s changing. We just need to make sure they’ve done everything they need to bring in revenue ... But in tough budget times, it’s hard to suddenly start providing money for another entity.”

One way Dozier and his staff have boosted the flow of revenues at the fairgrounds is by charging visitors to park at all fairgrounds events. Dozier called the parking fee, implemented this year, a “life saver” for the fairgrounds’ financial viability.

On Monday, Dozier also said he expects a long-awaited fairgrounds master plan to be completed by mid April. The master plan –– which is to recommend future use at the fairgrounds –– originated from Metro Council legislation approved members opted against demolishing the fairgrounds speedway in a January 2011 vote.

71 Comments on this post:

By: ds on 3/27/12 at 9:52

So Ms. Leeds, racer 84, and Ask01; you guys agree that development in that location is appropriate, desirable, and needed? You all have great ideas, I agree.
Now, is this development feasible while there is a racetrack?

By: Ask01 on 3/28/12 at 3:30

Feasible and, if a museum dedicated to the role of Nashville in racing with a functioning raceway offering exhibitions is included, absolutely required.

Besides depicting race day operations, such as pit crew operations, for a small fee, rides around the track with an actual driver could be offered and actual races could be staged periodically, perhaps say when conventions are in town.

This is just an initial suggestion. I'm certain die hard race fans could offer additional ideas to flesh out the vision.

I believe the idea could be workable and profitable if Mayor Dean and his cronies are kept at arms length and people with actual knowledge of the subjects (stock car racing, fairs, agriculture, etcetera) were allowed free rein to develope the project without political meddling.

By: NilsOrion on 3/28/12 at 5:41

Like it or not, Nashville has become a big, bright and rambunctious city. It is no longer a suitable host for a State Fair. It doesn't have the audience. It was becoming passe 30 years ago when I was a kid. I think the fairgrounds issue is almost moot and bordering on laughable. What I suggest is this: Move the State Fair to whatever is currently the biggest county fair in the area. (I think that's Wilson County.)

By: Luckyforward on 3/28/12 at 6:09

Behind all of this are the continual efforts of our "Mayor" who wants to be in control and push the Fairgrounds towards those who will benefit him. I am so weary of Nashville leadership that only sees the "1%" and steers everything towards the rich getting richer.

By: MusicCity615 on 3/28/12 at 7:21

In order for there to be a subsidy, there has to be a return on investment to all taxpayers, and I don't see it. If you want to keep it afloat, spend your own money.

Save the money.

By: Shane Smiley on 3/28/12 at 9:11

MusicCity615, Your statement would hold water if the same criteria were used for ALL tax payer subsidy.
A return to all tax payers is not achieved by subsidizing the golf courses, sail boat marina, Farmers market, Municipal Auditorium, and water parks.
The proposal on the City Council docket to give a 60% tax break to the new water/snow park is based on inflated economic numbers that even as overblown as they appear, are still only 1/2 of the established figures attained by the Fairgrounds

By: lisaleeds2008 on 3/28/12 at 9:23

According to the in the city charter the FGs can put a fair tax to help pay there bills. Or the money back to the city.

By: MusicCity615 on 3/28/12 at 11:35


the difference is the Fairgrounds can't even realistically breakeven. The others can.

By: NewYorker1 on 3/28/12 at 1:10

People actually go to the fairground and the race track and on that side of town? Really? Ew!

Wearing Gucci and Fendi to a place like that just seems unnatural.

By: Shane Smiley on 3/28/12 at 2:10


You need to do your home work. If these other subsidized entities could realistically break even, they would not be in line to be subsidized year after year after year after year. The ONLY entity in Davidson County with a history of breaking even IS the Fairgrounds.
The Fairgrounds has been living within their means for over a century.
They would be living within their means now if the Fair?board wasn't taking the lowest bid for the State Fair and the racetrack, a difference of OVER $419,000.00 for 2011/2012, The sales department was actually doing its job, Rich Riebeling hadn't budgeted the place for a loss, and money hadn't been taken out of the Fairgrounds savings to fund the Preds and Titans.

By: Shane Smiley on 3/28/12 at 3:20


Let's take this conversation one step further.

I challenge you to name one Metro owned entity other than the Fairgrounds that has spent even 20 years in service while requiring Zero dollars in tax payer subsidy.
Please provide documentation to go with your selection.

Now try to name any other entity with over a century of service to the citizens of Davidson county and guests from around the world without being a financial burden to the tax payers of Nashville.

I will save you some time and energy. It does not exist. Not for one year, not for twenty years. Not for 100 years.
The Fairgrounds is the only one.

If the property were not being set up for failure, reserves stolen to fund the preds and Titans, and was properly managed, There would be no need for this requested subsidy.

By: MusicCity615 on 3/28/12 at 5:15

The fairgrounds is not being properly managed. ok, so why does that deserve a subsidy?

Preds and Titans produce more ROI than the fairgrounds.

By: Shane Smiley on 3/28/12 at 6:14

The Fairgrounds deserves a subsidy. If for no other reason than being the piggy bank that helped get the Titans and Preds started here in Nashville.

It is time to clean house at the Fairgrounds. The Fair?Board, Buck, and corporate sales staff need to hit the bricks.
With a management team in place dedicated to making the place work and armed with knowledge of running events, you will see the Fairgrounds flourish.

The current management team has taken the lowest bid for the Fair and track and pay the high rates charged by metro contractors for services. The current Board and management have shown no fiscal responsibility and should be dismissed immediately.

Look at the Fair?Board. How many of these members have experience running events?, Concerts?, Motorsport events?, Fairs? The answer...1.
Buck has no experience running these types of events.
The corporate sales team doesn't do squat.

It is the job of our Mayor to nominate board members and the council to confirm. The Mayor has political appointees on the board. Not professionals in the entertainment industry.
Considering the large number of entertainment professionals based in Davidson County, there is no excuse for not having the best production people available helping to oversee the Fairgrounds.

We have seen reports of mismanagement of the Farmers Market yet, no one is suggesting the place be shut down or denied the nearly $1,000,000.00 annual gift it receives from the tax payers.

You say the Preds and Titans produce more ROI than the 1.2 Million guests of the Fairgrounds annually.
This may be true but, at what cost?
Both entities receive HUGE donations in tax payer dollars.
The Titans just received $28,000,000.00 for upgrades above and beyond the subsidized line item in the budget for the Sports Authority.

Put a skilled management team in charge of the Fairgrounds and watch it flourish.

By: Shane Smiley on 3/28/12 at 6:16

Once again, keep in mind, the Fairgrounds would not be in a position to need a subsidy if a large chunk of Fairgrounds savings had not been reallocated to the sports authority for Titans/Preds seed money.

By: JayBee56 on 3/28/12 at 8:41

Fire the Fair Board and recall the mayor. No reason the FG cannot be viable. It has been allowed to decline hoping people won't notice so it can be developed by private interests. A self fulfilling prophecy that doesn't have to be.

By: las04 on 3/28/12 at 8:47

las04 Shane, you are absolutely 100% correct. The Fairgrounds has been the bank for the Titans/Preds from the very get go. I am so sick and tired of these so called educated humans talking BS that they don't have a clue about much less provide anything to back it up. The Fairboard is a total disgrace and waste of taxpayers money, they should be dismissed immediately, but we know that's not going to happen because Scum Bag Dean wont have anyone to point a finger at if not for them. I can't wait until the end of his term is up....think I will make a few victory laps in his front yard...!!

By: Shane Smiley on 3/28/12 at 9:50

Las04 The Fair?Board is a non paying position. But, they certainly have squandered the saving of the Fairgrounds and have hobbled the property from prospering with their consistent acceptance of low bids for leases.
I find it disturbing that so many want to destroy the race track. Truth be told, the majority of the money used as seed money for the Titans and Preds, as well as the Majority of the savings the Fairgrounds has been living on was provided by events at the racetrack.
The city of Nashville had an opportunity to bring upper series NASCAR back for an event in 2012 but, the Fair?Board chose to not invite NASCAR to evaluate the property. Obviously, they were not listening to the 71% of the voters in the last election who spoke loudly in favor of preserving the Fairgrounds.
This is just another example of the Fair?Board not looking out for the well being of the Fairgrounds or the Citizens of Davidson county.
You would think the property that helped secure other forms of entertainment such as NFL and NHL for our city would be deserving of more respect.
I will agree that the Fair?Board should be dismissed immediately.
I also find it disturbing that the Vice-Mayor appointed Council-at-Large, Jerry Maynard as the Chair of the Fair commission.
Councilman Maynard equated the redevelopment of the Fairgrounds to the removal of a crack house from a neighborhood on Carl Boyd Jr's radio show.

By: Kosh III on 3/29/12 at 6:31

"I also find it disturbing that the Vice-Mayor appointed Council-at-Large, Jerry Maynard as the Chair of the Fair commission.
Councilman Maynard equated the redevelopment of the Fairgrounds to the removal of a crack house from a neighborhood on Carl Boyd Jr's radio show."

But the whole point is to get rid of the FG so that it can be another welfare gift to a rich corporation which will then give generous donations.
What happened to the latest "study" that was supposed to happen?

By: Shane Smiley on 3/29/12 at 8:34

Kosh III
That would be "the Master Plan" This plan was supposed to be a development plan for the corridor mapping the future from Laffayette to 440, I-65 to I-24.
After 2 RFP's(request for proposal) went unanswered, It was determined the scope of the project was much too large and overwhelming so it would be divided into 2 projects. Instead of splitting this "Overwhelming" project in half, They chose to carve 117 acres out of the heart of the footprint. So, phase one is the Fairgrounds and phase two will be determined by the outcome of phase I.
The "Master Plan" is expected to surface sometime in late April.
By mandate of the council, public input is required. They don't want to hear from us so, at some point, they will have a display of their suggestion and allow the public to comment on written comment cards. Nothing more.
Couple the administration paid for "Master Plan" with this subsidy request and it is pretty apparent they are trying to back door the whole thing. The actions taken by the administration at this point shows the arrogance they possess and a complete lack of respect for the will of the voters.
Get ready, we will need to storm the courthouse again fairly soon.

By: I-70racenut on 4/17/12 at 3:21

It was reported the Mayor,and Nashville Metro charged,the state fairboard $857,000,a year in feese for four years. This would the four years prior to Nashville Mayor Carl Deans 2011 reelection.The entire 2010 state fair,was leased to Bucki Dozier's former mayoral campaighn manager,for $100,000.Have you noticed the development of the fairgrounds,propaganda is no longer on the mayor's website.The 2010 consultant's report reccomended,that a professional management company operate the state fair.It stated their was too much politics involved in the state fair board. It also stated that a professional managemenbt company could bring a $250,000 to $500,000 increase in state fair revenue.The state fair board had the option to cancel Bobby Hamilton jr lease for any reason with 45 days notice. DUMP Dean,Reibling,Dozier,to save your state fair!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By: I-70racenut on 4/17/12 at 3:37

The Nashville,Metro,and Mayor charged the State Fair Board $857,000 a year in fees for four years.Prior to Mayor Dean's reection ,the Redevelopment of the Fairgrounds disappeard from his website.The entire 2010 State Fair was reported leased to Buck Doziers,former mayoral bid,campaighn manager.for $100,000.According to my math,the Metro Board milked the State Fair Board,of 3.4 million dollars.The State Fair Board had the option to cancel Bobby Hamilton Jr's lease,for any reason with 45 days notice.This subsidy is just what Dean wants to use to close the Fairgrounds. The Mayor cencelled events during 2009.2010 to reduce revenue from the Fairgrounds.
If you want to save your Fairgrounds!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!DUMP DEAN