Back in November I lamented the apparent passing of the Tennessee State Fair into history as Nashville Metropolitan Mayor Karl Dean (D) announced plans to redevelop the State Fairgrounds site, which is city/county owned, and to end Davidson County’s longstanding sponsorship of the fair. At that time, I pointed out that one of the fair’s many problems was metro government’s ownership of the fairgrounds, which meant that whenever Nashville/Davidson County Metro Government decided to end their sponsorship of the 104-year old exhibition, the fair would cease to be. Mayor Dean announced plans to redevelop the site last year, and that meant that Metro sponsorship would end, and so, it seemed, would the Tennessee State Fair.
The State Fair has apparently been put on life support for at least one year, as a public-private partnership has come together to put on the 104th Tennessee State Fair this year at its traditional fairgrounds site from September 10th-19th. The cooperation seen from public and private authorities to make sure that Tennessee continues to have its State Fair is the kind of thing that was proposed in the piece written here last November, and it is to be taken as a good sign that the fair will continue-and do so without an unwise State intervention.
The Tennessee State Fair still faces difficulties that it cannot immediately address, however. Redevelopment of the fairgrounds is still on the agenda for the Nashville Metro Government, and that means that the fair board may only have use of the traditional site for this fair season. If the State Fair is to continue on a long-term basis, the grounds must either be bought from the Metro Government, or (more likely) a new venue will have to be found. In addition to difficulties with the place to hold the fair over the long-term, the biggest obstacle to the revenue generation and agricultural exhibits that keep a successful State fair going is timing. The dates for the State Fair put it in direct conflict with Knoxville’s Tennessee Valley Fair, also held September 10th-19th, and the West Tennessee State Fair in Jackson (September 14th-19th).
Folks in East or West Tennessee will not come to Nashville in large enough numbers to make the Tennessee State Fair a truly State exhibition when the major regional fairs in East and West Tennessee are happening the very same week. Without greater Statewide participation, the Tennessee State Fair will be a glorified Davidson County Fair.
The Tennessee State Fair is off to a good fresh start in terms of saving it over the long haul, but the fair must address its continuing difficulties in Statewide appeal if its supporters truly want it to survive, and if the State wants to keep the tradition alive.