Free Lance-Star reporter Robyn Sidersky covers Caroline County government and schools. You can reach her at 540/374-5413 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow coverage on Facebook or Twitter as well.
The State Fair has sold!
RELATED: Caroline cheers State Fair outcome
There will be a state fair in Caroline County this year after all.
Universal Fairs, a for-profit fair company based in Tennessee, will put on a 10-day fair from Sept. 28 to Oct. 7, said owner Mark Lovell.
Lovell bought the 331-acre State Fair of Virginia property in Caroline Tuesday for $5.671 million. The original winning bid was $5.35 million, but a 6 percent commission was added to go to the auction company.
“I saw a bargain so I went for it,” Lovell said after the auction. “We have a lot of experience running fairs and we’re good at it. We’re excited with this beautiful piece of property…and we’re going to put on a fabulous 10-day event in September.”
Nearly a dozen people registered to bid on the property, which required a refundable $250,000 deposit.
The bids started at $2.5 million and lasted only seven minutes before Lovell was declared the winner. He must pay 10 percent of the purchase price by Friday.
Universal Fairs puts on a variety of U.S. fairs, festivals and expos, including the recently acquired Georgia State Fair.
“Our events are about family and friends coming together to do the things they love and we hope your experience at our fairs and shows will make you feel like you are part of our family,” it says on the Universal Fairs website.
Lovell said he plans to keep the livestock and agricultural feel of the fair and host a number of consumer shows, weddings, banquets, the Celtic Festival and possibly music festivals.
“The State Fair of Virginia clearly had a great fair. There were just a couple of unfortunate events that changed that,” he said.
Billy Beale, chairman of the State Fair’s board of directors, wished Universal Fairs the best in their efforts to create a diversified event emphasizing Virginia’s agricultural industry.
“I would like to congratulate Universal Fairs on their being able to purchase The Meadow Event Park and the intellectual property for less than SFVA offered to the lenders in March,” Beale said.
Creditors rejected a $5.5 million deal that an unnamed Richmond-based real-estate developer offered earlier this year. That developer’s plan was to lease it back to the State Fair, which declared bankruptcy late last year. The creditors’ rejection of the offer led to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case being converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation.
The property and associated assets were valued at $14 million, according to auction official Mark Motley.
Motley pointed out that the State Fair borrowed about $85 million to develop the Meadow park into its new home starting in 2009. The fair had previously been in Richmond.
“The creditors will take a huge loss, but the State Fair will rise again,” said Christy Myatt, an attorney for Nexsen Pruet, who is representing a lender group headed by ArborOne Farm Credit of South Carolina.
Higher offers were rejected because it would have taken more time to get the money, she said.
Myatt said the specific amount of the loss will not be known until around August or September. She did say that $345,000 in scholarships will be awarded to students who have not yet received them.
“They are under no obligation to fund those, but the creditors decided to,” she said.
More than 100 people toured the property Tuesday and dozens watched the anti-climatic auction take place.
“Somebody ought to call the sheriff because they stole it for that price,” said Hanover Couty resident David Brown, who went to the auction because he was concerned about the fair.
Karen Lambert, who lives near the fairgrounds, is participating in the online auction, which runs through May 24, at Motleys.com for farm equipment and other property at the park.
“I don’t know much about [Universal Fairs] at this point, but I’m hoping that we have cooperative neighbors,” she said.
In addition to wide swaths of land on both sides of State Route 30 in Caroline near Kings Dominion, Lovell purchased a 76,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 13,000-square-foot manor house for special events, 24,000 square feet of barns and stables, four riding rings, a 10,000-square-foot expo center, three houses and an RV park with hookups. The deal also include the foaling shed in which legendary racehorse Secretariat was born.
He said he wasn’t very familiar with the 1973 Triple Crown winner, but would maintain the history of the property.
“It has a lot of history and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
That was good news to Leeann Ladin, author of Secretariat’s Meadow and a close friend of 90-year-old Penny Chenery Tweedy, who bred and raced Secretariat.
She said it was important to continue to honor the Secretariat legacy at the Meadow Event Park, especially with the 40th anniversary of his Triple Crown win being next year.
“Secretariat is a huge legend for the fair and something Virginia can be proud of,” she said.
Vicki O’Hara, who had been hosting the three-day Equine Extravaganza on the fairgrounds since 2010, said she is waiting to see how the new owners will utilize the facility and hopes she can continue her annual event.
Lovell said they will be working hard to finalize plans in the next few weeks.
“I hate that the State Fair went through the bump in the road, but things happen and sometimes for the better.”
While Universal Fairs will take over the State Fair of Virginia now, it once got in trouble for trying to be too much like it.
The State Fair of Virginia Inc. had filed a federal lawsuit against Universal Fair in 2009 claiming that Universal’s Richmond Fair was infringing on its trademark and was misleading vendors and potential fairgoers. Both groups settled on an agreement.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419