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.