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State Fair of Virginia site sells for $5.35M

Associated Press Published: May 22, 2012
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The State Fair of Virginia property in Caroline County has been sold at a foreclosure auction for nearly $5.35 million.

Mark Lovell of Cordova, Tenn.-based Universal Fairs on Tuesday bought the State Fair of Virginia's real estate, including the 360-acre Meadow Event Park site where Triple Crown winner Secretariat was born, for $5.35 million plus more than $320,000 in buyers' fees, according to Mark Motley, owner of Motley's Auction & Realty Group, which conducted Tuesday's sale.

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, casting uncertainty on this year's event.

Tuesday's live auction featured Meadow Event Park's real estate, which includes a 12,900-square-foot manor house, a 76,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 9,700-square-foot pavilion and an extensive equestrian facility, along with the State Fair of Virginia trademark, website and social media accounts. Secretariat's preserved foaling shed and yearling barn also is on the property.

The auction company scheduled a news conference for later in the day.

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

The organization had taken on massive debt for the project, even as the economy worsened and the stock-market slump shrank its investment portfolio. It also failed to curb spending, with State Fair president Curry A. Roberts and a handful of officers continuing to draw outsized salaries, according to documents in the bankruptcy case as well as SFVA's own filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

The group filed for bankruptcy protection in December and proposed to buy out the bondholders to settle the debt. The creditors declined, saying the offered amount wasn't anywhere near what they were owed. SFVA subsequently liquidated its assets.

Several groups had expressed interest in buying the property and staging this year's fair in September, as regularly scheduled.

SFVA Inc. had sued Universal Fairs for trademark infringement and unfair competition in 2009, alleging that its affiliates were improperly using "State" in the name of a planned rival event that year at the Richmond International Raceway complex — the longtime home of the fair before it moved to Caroline County. Universal Fairs agreed to stop using "State" and the sides settled the lawsuit. The event wasn't held at the raceway.