Farm Bureau to partner with new Va. fair owner

Associated Press Published: July 6, 2012
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is getting into the fair business, announcing Friday it will be a 50-50 partner with a company that purchased the 331 acres in Caroline County that is home to the State Fair of Virginia.

The farm lobby will partner with Universal Fairs LLC of Cordova, Tenn., to operate the agricultural side of the fair. Universal purchased the rolling green acres that were once the home of Triple Crown winner Secretariat at auction in May for $5.67 million from the debt-ridden former operator of the 150-year-old fair.

Financial terms were not released.

"We're 50 percent owners with Universal Fairs," Greg Hicks, a Farm Bureau spokesman, said in an interview. "We put up some money, they put up some money and we borrowed to operate the fair, is how it breaks down."

The fair is scheduled to run from Sept. 28 through Oct. 7 under a partnership called Commonwealth Fairs and Events LLC.

Universal's president, Mark Lovell, had signaled almost immediately after he successfully bid for the property that he would be open to selling his new acquisition if someone offered the right price. The Farm Bureau partnership appears to remove a cloud of uncertainty over the fair.

"We are new to Virginia, but we know how to run a fair," Lovell said in a statement released by the Farm Bureau, which claims more than 150,000 members in Virginia. "With Virginia Farm Bureau, a trusted organization that has been around for more than 85 years, we will be able to bring together the best of both worlds."

Universal operates fairs in Tennessee, Georgia and the state of Washington, a festival in Arizona and a variety of other events and expositions around the U.S.

Gov. Bob McDonnell said the partnership ensures "that future generations of Virginians will continue to experience the best of what the fair has to offer."

State Fair of Virginia Inc. acquired the Meadow Farm property in 2003 for $5.3 million and moved the annual fair from Richmond, where it had been held since 1854. The nonprofit defaulted on about $80 million in financing from a group of creditors and was forced to liquidate.

After the site underwent nearly $100 million in construction projects, the fair debuted in Caroline County in September 2009. Attendance hit a record 250,000 last year, but the group was unable to make money after the fair left Richmond.



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