Fairgrounds looking to make deferred improvements

Fairgrounds looking to make deferred improvements
August 20
00:00 2015

In above photo: The Fairground’s Grandstand (Photo by Todd Luck)

The Winston-Salem Fairgrounds, home of the Dixie Classic Fair, is in need of more than $28.7 million in improvements, according to an updated master plan presented to the City Council Finance Committee on Monday, Aug.10.

The master plan, which will be implemented over many years, got more attention than usual when City Council Member James Taylor said during the meeting that he wanted the public to weigh in on changing the name of the Dixie Classic Fair.

He said some of his constituents have expressed offense at the world “Dixie,” which is sometimes associated with the Confederacy. Taylor had such an overwhelming response against changing the name that by that Wednesday, Aug. 12, he had withdrawn his name-change question.

“I know some of my constituents continue to have concerns over this matter, but I’ve also heard from passionate supporters of the fair as it is currently named,” Taylor said in a statement. “At this time, I believe it is in the best interest of our city that I focus my attention on the details of the consultant’s report suggesting how to improve the fairgrounds, and how to grow our fair into the most prosperous in the state.”

The master plan, prepared for the city by consultants, suggests $28.7 million in capital improvements in hopes of attracting more events outside of the fair, though fairgoers will notice the many proposed improvements as well.

The fairgrounds were donated to the city by the Winston-Salem Foundation in 1969. It currently includes more than 25 buildings on 72 acres of land. Though owned by the city, the fairgrounds is self-sustaining, generating enough to cover its expenses and debt payments. This is thanks to the successful Dixie Classic Fair. Begun in 1882, the fair has been known by many names before settling on the Dixie Classic moniker in 1956. It has grown to the second largest fair in North Carolina and one of the largest in the country, attracting more than 300,000 attendees a year. While most fairs operate at a loss, Fair Director David Sparks said the Dixie Classic generally generates $500,000 to $800,000 in profit, which the fairground uses for its own expenses.

“It’s been very successful,” said Sparks. “People in the community here seem to love the fair.”

The massive fair, held Oct. 2-11 this year, includes rides, more than 200 vendors and many kinds of livestock. Usually poultry is also shown, but a state moratorium on poultry shows due to avian flu concerns will prevent that from happening this year. The fairgrounds and its facilities are also rented for other uses year-round, such as livestock shows, comic conventions, video game auctions, gun shows and RV rallies. Sparks said that though the fairgrounds are constantly in use, it would attract more business if repairs and upgrades are made to the buildings and grounds.

“To me, that’s the thrust of the capital improvements, at least initially, is to catch up on the deferred maintenance items that we’ve not been able for the past five to10 years,” he said.

Sparks said the city hasn’t tried to do a bond for the Fairgrounds since the 1980s, when voters rejected a fairground bond. Since then, the Fairgrounds leadership has borrowed money for capital projects, which it then pays back.

There’s actually numerous improvements already in the works at the Fairgrounds that aren’t counted in the $28.7 million overhaul. By the time the fair starts, structures such as the Clock Tower and gates will be repainted. After the fair, work will begin to fix the leaking roof in the Annex building, a large building which has been host to Juneteenth in past years and is annually turned into an ice rink for skating and hockey games starting in October. The Midway, which is cracked and worn, will be repaved. The Bolton Home and Garden building, a building regularly rented for events that has insulation visible through its ceiling, will be getting a drop ceiling and new, improved lighting. A skate park is also scheduled to be built on the Fairgrounds in the coming months.

The Fairgrounds offers competitive prices for event rentals, such as $900 a day plus expense for the 6,000-square foot Bolton building. Sparks said he doesn’t expect prices to go up because of upgrades.

Also part of long term planning would be increasing the Fairgrounds staff, which is small relative to other fairs of that size. This includes someone to market the Fairgrounds for non-fair activities.

City Council Member Denise “D.D.” Adams, vice-chair of the finance committee who represents the North Ward, which contains the fairgrounds, said the Finance Committee and its staff will be looking at ways to secure funding for the capital improvements, perhaps even securing grants to help speed the process along.She said the fairgrounds are a good investment.

“We need to use theses facilities to help our quality of life be better,” said Adams. She’s especially hoping the Dixie Classic Fair Farmers, which is held every Saturday year-round, can garner more attention.

She said the farmer’s market could help those who live in the city’s food deserts, which are areas that don’t have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The operations overview said that the farmer’s market needs to keep expanding its special events, marketing and social media presence. The market currently has an annual salsa contest, food trucks and live music on some Saturdays and a $20 Challenge, in which Chef Nikki Miller-Ka prepares a meal with ingredients purchased there for $20.

The capital improvements are divided into three phases. The first phase, which costs $11 million, will take several years said Sparks.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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