The new director of the Clark County Fairgrounds said he would consider selling alcohol at the fair and plans to seek corporate contracts with beverage companies and other businesses.
Dean Blair, whose first day was May 2, said he’s currently learning as much as he can about the fair, but at some point he will research the pros and cons of alcohol sales.
“If that is economically a good thing and there’s dollars there corporate-wise to make it worthwhile then I would present that,” he said. “And, if it would pass the board’s approval, that’s something I would want to do.”
About half of Clark County’s total tourism revenue of about $368 million can be linked to events at the fairgrounds and Champions Center, according to the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Clark County Agricultural Society President Jay Flax said the fair board probably won’t support alcohol sales.
The fair board considered selling beer in 2011 to boost revenue but ultimately voted against it after hearing objections from county commissioners and residents.
“Our stance has been we promote youth at the fair,” Flax said. “The commissioners the last time it was brought up basically told us that they didn’t want us to do that. They had gotten some heat from the public that didn’t want that. For as many that probably want it, there’s that many that don’t want it. We looked at it before but the economic sense of it wasn’t worth the resistance that we were getting.”
The Greene, Warren and Miami County fairs have a beer garden, an enclosed area to purchase alcohol. The Montgomery County Fair has offered beer for years. The Champaign County Fair doesn’t sell alcohol.
More and more fairs have to operate as a business and sell beer to help pay the bills, said Rodney Arter, second vice president of the Ohio Fair Managers Association.
“It’s harder to get money from the county and there’s so many people reaching out to the businesses,” he said. “They just really do it because they need the money to survive and do what they do for the kids.”
However, Arter, who is on the board of directors for the Hartford Fair, said selling alcohol isn’t a good fit for the fair in Licking County.
“We’re very rural. We’re not in the city … There’s a lot of reasons,” Arter said.
Officials at the Greene and Miami County fairs said they have seen profits rise from beer sales.
Supporters of alcohol sales at county fairs say it can help raise revenue while supplying attendees with what has become an accepted part of attending events. Opponents have argued that fairs are geared more toward children than other kinds of events and shouldn’t risk any trouble brought on by beer consumption.
Clark County Commissioners John Detrick and Rick Lohnes said they would listen if Blair presented information about selling alcohol during the fair but weren’t sure if they would support the idea. Both opposed it in 2011.
“I’m reluctant to commit, particularly during fair. I could see at other events when they rent the fairgrounds out,” Detrick said. “I’m a little skeptical doing it fair week just because I don’t want it around where young people are.”
Blair said, as a parent and grandparent, he understands those who say fair week isn’t the time to sell alcohol because of the number of children on the grounds.
But he said alcohol is consumed on the fairgrounds whether the fair sells it or not.
“Whether it’s right or not, it happens,” Blair said. “It happens because it’s brought in or whatever. I think we would honestly have better control and be in a better position if it was controlled and it was in a designated area with deputies in place and things were done in a more controlled environment.”
Blair, former co-owner of Foreman-Blair Buick/GMC/Cadillac, said he wants to use his business experience to boost revenue and attendance at the fairgrounds.
“If we want as a community to have a strong fairgrounds then the key to that is more revenues, more attendance and more events,” he said.
Among his goals, Blair said, would be to offer product exclusivity to companies willing to work with the fairgrounds.
“Because of my business background, I’m all about partnerships with different corporate entities, whether it’s an Anheuser-Busch or a Coca-Cola or Pepsi or a company like John Deere … that would support us and we could offer exclusivity in the product,” Blair said.
“For example, Coke or Pepsi, I want to seek out and try to get a deal with them to have exclusivity on the fairgrounds for their product in exchange for some kind of a reciprocation that’s attractive for us whether its sponsorship of buildings or something like that,” he said.
Blair also said he would support developing the lakes at the fairgrounds for water sporting events such as boat racing and fishing tournaments, which could make the property more attractive to potential sponsors.
“I’m an advocate for corporate sponsorships regardless of whether it’s … TruPointe or John Deere or Budweiser,” he said.