The Tennessee State Fair begins Friday at Nashville’s Fairgrounds, but it’s an arrangement that has become mired in controversy.
The fair’s organizers say the event is being squeezed out as the city also attempts to accommodate a racetrack, flea markets, a soccer stadium and a new public park in a tight space.
“The current status of those plans would not accommodate the fair, even at its current level,” said John Rose, chairman of the Tennessee State Fair Association. “Our group is prepared to fight to preserve that tradition and to preserve the interests of the state, and of farmers and agriculturalists across the state, to preserve the fair.”
At a Metro Council meeting last month, Rose unloaded a series of grievances — charging that Metro has not listened to the needs of the fair. Specifically, he said the fair is losing a chunk of its parking this year to redevelopment.
“Frankly, the city did not keep its word and has failed to provide that space to us as was promised,” Rose said. “And that doesn’t bode well for the future and the other promises that are being made.”
He goes further to argue that a deal struck 95 years ago requires Nashville to serve as the host.
“If Davidson County wants to change that deal, then it’s incumbent upon them to make restitution for taking our home,” Rose told WPLN.
Still, there are reasons why the fair would want to move.
A consultant’s report a year ago said the current site is less than a quarter the size of what’s needed for a successful fair, and that it needs easier interstate access, among other recommendations.
The fair has also struggled with attendance that now trails some county fairs.
These factors — and the fact that the fair’s contract with Metro is now up for renegotiation — led a state panel to begin exploring options for a new home.
But at the moment, Nashville Fairgrounds Sales Manager Scott Wallace said the goal is to continue the partnership.
“I’m full steam ahead, and the people here are full steam ahead, for keeping the fair here,” he said. “We have to get that [contract] straight, to make sure they’re going to stay here.”
Wallace said much of the space crunch this year is taking place behind the scenes, where fair organizers store their equipment.
“We’re trying to make amends for that,” he said, noting that fairgoers shouldn’t notice a difference in the attractions, at least this year.