Rowan board OKs fairgrounds sale

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 6, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — The county fair will go on, but after years of discussion, commissioners agreed Monday on terms to sell the fairgrounds to the Rowan County Fair Association.
The Rowan County Fair Association, which manages the annual Rowan County Agricultural and Industrial Fair, will buy 25 acres of the property for $500,000.
The county and fair attorneys will now draw up a formal contract with the agreed-upon terms, which will come back before commissioners before the sale is final.
Unexpectedly, two commissioners who say they’re against the sale joined a unanimous vote passing the agreement.
Commissioner Jim Sides said he thinks the county should hold onto the property, because it could get a lot more for it in a few years.
“I’ve known for a long time that there is probably a 3-2 vote to sell it,” Sides said. “If that was going to happen, I wanted to try to get some terms that protected the taxpayers as best I could.”
Commissioner Carl Ford said last week that he opposes the sale, but he knows he’s in the minority.
The association will take out a $300,000 private mortage and a $200,000 second mortgage financed by the county. It will pay only interest to the county for seven years, at the prevailing prime rate, before paying off the entire second mortgage.
Sides suggested two changes to other parts of the agreement.
Under the draft contract presented Monday, the association would have free use of the fair parking area for the next seven years unless the county sells it. Sides added that the county also can reclaim the land if it “finds another use for” the property.
The draft contract also would give the association right of first refusal to the remaining 24 or so acres of county-owned land behind the fairgrounds. Sides said he could agree to that, but he struck a line saying that if the fair association doesn’t buy that land, the county would reimburse it for any improvements made.
Chairman Chad Mitchell made the motion to approve the agreement with those changes, and Fair Manager Johnny Love said he was OK with them.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain seconded the motion, which passed 5-0.
Coltrain then thanked the fair association “for allowing yourself to be walked over.”
“I think this contract really takes advantage of your organization unnecessarily, but I’m glad you are willing to look at the long-term broad picture,” Coltrain said.
The fair association has been renting the fairgrounds from the county for $25,000 per year.
The whole property, which totals about 50 acres, has been appraised at $1.3 million. The association says it has made about $300,000 worth of improvements to it.
Love has said the buildings need more repairs and renovations, but the association would lose any money it invests without owning the property.
Local resident Michael Decker said he thinks the association should be able to work on the property so it can continue to put on a good fair.
He spoke during the public comment period Monday along with David Correll, a Cleveland resident and livestock director at the fair.
Correll said the fairgrounds used to draw people from all over to Rowan County with its events and had a big economic impact.
“Over the last several years, we have continued to see decline in rental and use of the property,” Correll said. “Events that we are missing have cost our county a tremendous amount of income from travel and tourism.”
Correll said he has spoken with groups that are interested in using the fairgrounds for events like cattle shows, but they went elsewhere because of insurance requirements and other county restrictions. Giving the fair association ownership, he said, will help it bring more events back,
Later in the meeting, Commissioner Jon Barber said he knows some people are concerned about the type of events that could be held at the fairgrounds once the property is privately owned.
The county banned alcohol sales on its property after concerns were raised about the Smoke Out biker festival, which was held at the Rowan County fairgrounds for five years.
There has been no mention of bringing back the bikers, but fair officials have said the alcohol ban has hurt their ability to book events.
Barber said the bottom line is that the association has always put on a great fair for Rowan residents.
“This is finally going to be the venue that we’ve needed here for a long time,” he said.
Mitchell said the association has agreed to hold the fair at least once a year — otherwise, the county will be able to buy the property back for the same price.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Facebook: Karissa.SalisburyPost