Outlooks for farmers’ market, fairgrounds contrast sharply

Monday, April 1, 2013 at 12:05am

Representatives for the Tennessee State Fairgrounds and the Nashville Farmers’ Market arrived at day one of this year’s budget hearings to tell Mayor Karl Dean they’re coming up short.

Neither presentation came as a surprise, of course. Both facilities have struggled financially for years, but as Dean listened and discussed their respective plights, along with Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote and Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, there was a palpable difference in tone between the two.

Having just emerged from lease negotiations for this year’s state fair — in which breaking even was never really a possibility — the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners is looking ahead at a significant financial shortfall, and an uncertain future. Fairgrounds director Buck Dozier presented a request for a $791,000 subsidy to make up the difference between next year’s expenses and projected revenue, and to pay for a staffer focused on marketing.

In the past, the fair board has been able to tap into a reserve fund to close the gap between expenses and revenue. That fund will be all but depleted, though, after this year, assuming a supplemental budget request filed by the administration last week is approved.

Dozier told the mayor that one of the biggest challenges the fairgrounds faces is its aging facilities.

“The greatest thing about the fairgrounds is it’s 107 years old, the worst thing about it is it’s 107 years old,” he said.

The other is an uncertain future, which Dozier said largely hinges on what the Metro Council does with the new master plan for the facility, which was submitted last month.

The Farmers’ Market presentation, however, was a largely optimistic one, focused on untapped potential. The facility has also faced financial problems, and will need $482,000 — also included in the administration’s recent supplemental budget request — to make it through the current fiscal year. Nancy Whittemore, director of Metro General Services, who has been acting as interim director at the market ever since Jeff Themm stepped down from the role last year after a damaging finance and management review, said projections show the facility would face a similar deficit next year.

But Dean was full of praise for some existing features at the market, such as the popular Night Market events, and anticipation for what they could be down the line.

(The Night Market events, typically held one evening a month during the market’s high season, feature a festive atmosphere with farmers, artisans, food trucks, wine and other beverages, and live music.)

“If you go to the Night Market once, I think you fall in love with the concept and think what a great thing this could be if we could do this more frequently,” Dean said. “The issue for us is how you get there.”

Metro officials explored the possibility of privatizing the market, but a request for proposals earlier this year yielded no takers. But Dean and his aides discussed the possibility of authorizing the market to find an executive director, whose full-time job it would be to work on enacting a vision for the facility. They also entertained the idea of eventually enclosing the market’s two outdoor sheds, which Whittemore said would cost about $330,000, but would make it easier to rent space in those areas throughout the year.

With the right vision and execution, Dean said, “it could be one of the most unique, special things in the city.”

10 Comments on this post:

By: CrimesDown on 4/1/13 at 6:11

I'm so tired of this. The Fairgrounds would be just fine if the mayor had not tried to run it into the ground. A rookie business person could take control of the Fairgrounds and make a fortune, while providing jobs and entertainment for hundreds of thousands of people. Give me a ten year lease on the entire property, and don't try to hinder me and I could embarrass the mayor.

By: Trumpet on 4/1/13 at 6:48

Joe/The Collection:

I believe we should allow "CrimesDown" a chance, with 10 years and no outside negative interference, he just might succeed. "....and These are the Day's of Our Lives...".....Organ Music in the background....and Fiddles....with a Twang...

SALEMTOWN!!!

By: pswindle on 4/1/13 at 7:44

Dean and Dozier will kill the fairgrounds before Dean goes out of office. He has a personal stake in getting this land on the property.

By: Joe Scutella on 4/1/13 at 8:13

The Fairgrounds are a blight in the heart of the city. The facility is a drain upon tax payers, has outlived its usefulness and does not fit into 21st century Nashville. It is a worn out time capsule of an era which is long gone. There is no room, or excuse for that matter, for a race track in the middle of town. The noise from that ridiculous track can be heard as far away as Green Hills and Crieve Hall, let alone the neighborhoods surrounding it. Those ares surrounding the Fairgrounds would boom, housing values rise and the neighborhoods would gentrify if the Fairgrounds were either a park like Central Park in NY or developed into multi-use residential and commercial space. Nostalgia is no reason to keep something alive which most of today's Nashvillians could care less about.

By: courier37027 on 4/1/13 at 8:18

Dean also gazed into his crystal ball and proclaimed Maytown a Renaissance in the making. Why do so many people cling to this man's every syllable and wish when balance sheets prove him wrong? Up next, the financial disaster known as new convention center.

By: Jughead on 4/1/13 at 8:30

Raze the Fleagrounds and move on. Stop selling socks and velvet Elvis paintings at the Farmers Market and I might return to buy overpriced produce that was shipped here from California.

By: BigPapa on 4/1/13 at 8:40

The fairgrounds and race track both need to go. I hope Dean is successful in riding us of all that.

By: C.A.Jones on 4/1/13 at 9:17

Either of these facilities would turn a profit if run by private enterprises. Get the Metro Gov't involved and they turn into cash vacuums. Funny how that works.....

By: Shane Smiley on 4/1/13 at 9:33

Having just emerged from lease negotiations for this year’s state fair — in which breaking even was never really a possibility — the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners is looking ahead at a significant financial shortfall, and an uncertain future. Fairgrounds director Buck Dozier presented a request for a $791,000 subsidy to make up the difference between next year’s expenses and projected revenue, and to pay for a staffer focused on marketing.

The Fairboard turned down a bid for $500k to operate the Fair and money for an additional event attached to the proposal.
If they had not bowed down to political pressure and a lesser financial deal, the need for subsidy would not an issue.

By: spooky24 on 4/3/13 at 4:52

I agree Jug except that the majority of the overpriced produce at the Farmers Market comes from Brazil. It is cheaper to grow it in South America and ship it here than to grow it in California. The main problem at the Market is that all the farmers are dead.
I loved Fair Park as a kid-shame today's kids will never get that experience. I looked at all the plans for the Fairgrounds and Dozer is right about one thing-the buildings have long past their usefulness.