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Meadow Event Park brings cash to Caroline

Meadow Event Park in Caroline County isn’t a one-trick pony, good only for the State Fair of Virginia, held every October.

The venue’s goal is to host an event every weekend, said Jeff Dillon, president of the State Fair. And with nearly 30 public events scheduled for 2014 already, they’re close to achieving that goal.

Those events also mean big dollars for Caroline County’s coffers.

“There’s a lot of opportunity,” said Dillon. “We spend a lot of time working to bring things to the Meadow.”

The State Fair of Virginia has been held at the event park since 2009, attracting an average of more than 200,000 people each year. But the success of that signature event was in doubt last year when the former owners of the fair filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

In July 2012, two organizations—the Virginia Farm Bureau and Tennessee-based Universal Fairs—formed Commonwealth Fairs and Events LLC to buy the property and manage events there, including the fair. This year’s fair attendance of 229,000 people marked a 43 percent increase over last year’s crowds.

This year, the county has collected about $200,000 in tax revenue from events held at Meadow Event Park, said Caroline Commissioner of the Revenue Sharon Carter.

Not only does the venue pay real estate taxes, but vendors and promoters have to purchase licenses from the county to operate at events. A 4 percent food and beverage tax is also collected.

The venue boasts several facilities that can be rented out for large-scale events, or smaller private ones.

The Meadow is located in Doswell near the Hanover County line—just off Interstate 95’s Exit 98, the same exit as King’s Dominion.

Some of the events planned for next year include a hot-air balloon festival in May and Countryfest in June.

Countryfest, organized by K95, a country radio station in Richmond, is a family event that will feature country performers on multiple stages, as well as other entertainment, food and beverages.

Both events could draw as many as 10,000 people each, Dillon said.

And that’s just for the first year of each event, he said. He expects that the attendance will double over the next four or five years.

Organizers also have a bluegrass festival and a Tough Mudder in the works. The Virginia Tough Mudder, set for June 2014, is a hard-core obstacle course race—in the mud—designed to test participants stamina and camaraderie.

In 2013, Dillon said the Meadow hosted signature events, such as the State Fair and the Equine Extravaganza, but also a dozen weddings, at least 10 horse shows and a dozen other rentals.

For 2014, he expects two dozen weddings, at least a dozen equestrian events and horse shows, and 20 to 25 other happenings at the park in addition to the main events.

“The activity has increased significantly in the last 12 months,” Dillon said.

An event Dillon highlighted is a state-of-the-art holiday lights show next November. It would included thousands of twinkling holiday displays, and patrons could drive through and tune in to a radio station that would coordinate music with the light show.

In addition, there would be a holiday village, a visit from Santa and an outdoor skating rink.

Meadow Event Park consists of several facilities, including an 80-acre equine complex, a 65,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 7,000-square-foot pavilion and 331 acres.

Dillon said they have invested significantly in decorating the mansion on the property. The Southern-style house boasts 2,000-square-foot and 600-square-foot ballrooms, which could be used for weddings and corporate events.

In November, the Meadow hosted Equine Extravaganza, which the Farm Bureau acquired this year. The weekend of events gives a nod to some of the historical nature of the park.

The Meadow was once home to Riva Ridge, who won the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, and the birthplace of Secretariat, who won the U.S. Triple Crown a year later.

Caroline County officials have been working with Caroline motels near the park to lure visitors toward those instead of nearby Hanover facilities.

“More and more people are being steered toward Carmel Church,” said Gary Wilson, the county’s economic development director.

But he admitted they need to step up their game. He said the Travelodge and Days Inn in Caroline are both making major improvements.

Charlie Talley, the general manager of the Travelodge, said they get a lot of business from tourists coming to the park and would welcome the business from more events planned there.

Along with the guests attending the events, vendors and participants stay there as well, he said.

Wilson says the county is taking steps to attract more and more people to the park and the county.

“It’s a huge space, a beautiful location, easy to get to, and central to everything,” he said.

He touts not only the convenient location, but the affordability of the area.

“If you want to save money, this is a good place to stay,” he said.

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413