Lucas County Fair seeks mindset, location changeWritten by Myndi Milliken | | email@example.com
The Lucas County Fair has begun its 147th year, but some are wondering if major changes might be in order to make the event more viable. Last year, attendance was 35,000 for the week, significantly down from a decade ago, when attendance was at 80,000 per week.
”The fair has not been in real healthy shape,” said Dennis Lang, president of the agricultural society and fair board president. ”We are basically trying to live on a week’s income for an entire year.”
Lang, like others, said he feels the fair needs to move from its current Maumee location and from its ”county fair” mindset to rise from its struggles.
A huge blow to the fair’s success has been 4-H youth turning to other counties’ clubs.
”I don’t know what it would take to turn this around, so many 4-Hers are moving to Fulton County,” said Angie Carmona, fair manager.
Lucas County’s extension office grants waivers to Lucas County residents to participate in other clubs provided they are within that club’s school district.
”This is why we don’t have a county fair anymore,” Lang said. ”Why is the extension office giving all these waivers? We are losing kids to Fulton and Ottawa County. We need to stop these exemptions, stop the flow.”
Lang said the need to educate residents on the benefits of 4-H and the possibilities of what projects children can show when they participate in 4-H is important. He also said the fair needs a change of mindset from a county fair and find urban solutions.
”There are no dairy cows in Lucas County, no chickens. We used to rent cows,” he said. ”We are 75 percent urban. How do you get around it? Kids need to know they don’t have to have a horse, pig or cow to show. They can have a dog, cat or guinea pig.”
Lang cited a $50,000 deficit in 2002, and a $30,000 surplus in 2003 but 2004 was down approximately $20,000. ”This year, we would like to have a $25,000 profit off the fair.”
Profit or not, it takes money to make money, and some feel not enough is funneled into the fair by the Lucas County Commissioners.
”A lot of these barns need significant work, and $50,000 doesn’t go far,” Carmona said of the general fund money given annually by the Commissioners.
”I know they would love a ton of money dumped into their buildings,” Commissioner Maggie Thurber said. ”Obviously we can’t fund everything they want in one year.”
Lang said the commissioners have been supportive of the fair, giving $30,000 annually from the general fund, and finding $50,000 from its community improvement project funds to help renovate barns and exhibit buildings.
Moving the fair
Years ago, the County looked at options for the fairgrounds – even developing a master plan looking into six locations. Yet no further attempt has been made to relocate the fair.
”They want to [move the fair], but at this point there has been no more talk about it,” Carmona said.
Thurber said she has yet to see a comprehensive plan from the board concerning a move. She also noted it would be the board’s responsibility to ”facilitate” the move – find a place, crunch the numbers and then approach the commissioners for ”approval.”
Lang and Thurber said they have run into issues with Maumee residents who complain about sound and animals at the fairgrounds, making a move even more attractive.
”Maumee residents complain that there are animals and music,” Thurber said. ”I don’t think a lot of people understand what a fair is; they think it’s supposed to be an amusement park.”
Efforts are being made to build relationships and provide more tools to support the fairgrounds, Lang said. He has sent letters and gone door to door with Maumee residents near the fair to gauge their feelings on what can and can’t be done. He said he also met with the groups running tournaments at Roy Hobbs-Ned Skeldon stadium to see how they can work together more.
”There are a lot of things we could do,” he said. ”In five years I want us to be out of there and back in the City of Toledo.”
Lang said efforts have been made to branch into other moneymaking ventures to help support the fair year-round. Some have been met with controversy. He said this year’s inaugural flower sale was met with criticism, and behind the scenes, he was pressured to call the event off.
”People tried to stop it,” he said. ”The person who runs the Erie Street Market was making calls to the commissioners, and then it was mentioned that we could lose our funding if we did it.”
He also said he has faced other obstacles.
”Maumee rezoned the property so we can’t keep animals there overnight.” Lang said this limits the board’s abilities to put on national horse shows or other animal-related events that could bring in more money.
Lang said he thinks it will be hard to change.
”Some people are not willing to compromise. I think we’ve made a lot of changes, but also a lot of enemies. We want people to know about 4-H because currently, less than one percent of our population is involved and that’s sad.”
One effort being made this year is to get people from the inner city more involved with the fair.
”This year we were able to work with TARTA to get transportation coupons and give a free day,” Lang said. ”We’ve tried to make it more appealing to everybody. Everything from rock and roll, rap and country.”
The fair runs through July 31 at the Lucas County Fairgrounds, Key Street, Maumee. Entertainment includes a kids day, tractor pulls, performances by Pawn, Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat, Peter Schlegel, Bandera, and Survivor, a cheerleading contest, and a demolition derby. For more information, visit www.lucascountyfair.com.