New site probed for Fair

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The Leon County Commission met Tuesday to discuss the possibility of developing land that has been the site of the North Florida Fair since 1941.

County commissioners and the Tallahassee-Leon County Economic Development Council proposed the idea of utilizing the nearly 142 acre site for a business park that would potentially include residential housing, a stormwater pond, and a community service center.

North Florida Fair Association representative Lee Vause talked about the negative monetary impact moving the fairground to an alternative site could cause.

“Operation of the fair involves a lot more than the 11 days the fair takes place annually,” Vause said.

He said one of the fair’s main selling points is its current location. Vause also mentioned the renovations that have already been made to the property.

“We must have a suitable relocation site that is both accessible and commercially suitable,” Vause said.

Vause pointed out that while the annual fair lasts a little more than a week, the site generates substantial revenue The site hosts everything from dog and auto shows to chili cook-offs and gun and knife auctions.

Commission chairman Dan Winchester said he was open to the idea of developing the Leon County Fairgrounds but questioned the feasibility of a business park being placed on the site.

“If this site can be better used for businesses, then so be it, but we need to have the numbers to back it up. There has to be a market demand before any taxpayer money is spent,” Winchester said.

Winchester went on to commend commissioner Bill Proctor for spearheading the effort to introduce ideas to develop the current fairground site.

Moving the fairgrounds is an issue currently on the table here in Leon County, but it’s not a new idea to other Florida cities and neighboring states, as commissioner Bob Rackleff noted.

“The city of Tampa and Alabama have moved their fairgrounds in the past, so this isn’t an alien concept,” Rackleff said.

While expressing his approval that the discussion about the potential development of the fairgrounds was moving forward, commissioner Bill Proctor said he empathized with the interests of the NFFA.

“This is not an eviction notice, we simply need to come to a new agreement,” Proctor said.

Standing in support of the fairground development is Leon County resident John Green. A reverend at local Bethel AME Church, Green said he didn’t oppose relocation of the fairgrounds if it stood to enhance the south side community.

“The south side lacks commercial development. I’ve seen development take place around it, but not in it for years,” Green said.

The NFFA currently has a lease agreement with Leon County that runs through the year 2067 at a rental fee of $1 each year.