Longtime Clark County Fair director to retire, businessman takes helm

A former co-owner of a car dealership will take the helm of the Clark County Fairgrounds after the fair’s longest-serving director retires later this year.

Dean Blair, former co-owner of Foreman-Blair Buick/GMC/Cadillac, was recently hired to replace Allan Hess when he retires on Aug. 31 after 21 years as the fair director, Fair Board President Jay Flax said.

Hess said he’s retiring because it’s simply time as he will turn 69 in August.

The 2016 county fair will be his last as director.

“It will be mixed emotions. I’m excited about the fair because it’s been a great part of my last 20 years or so,” Hess said. “I always look forward to the fair. It’s always a fun thing. The prep work getting into it and getting set to put on a fair is the part that makes you anxious because you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got everything covered.”

Blair will start working along with Hess on Monday.

“I’ve kind of been around the fairground all my life and I’ve just been very passionate about it,” Blair said. “I’m very excited about it and I’m really looking forward to it.”

The fair board received eight applications for the director’s position and Blair was one of two interviewed.

“He’s a sharp businessman in the community so we jumped on the bandwagon and hired him,” Flax said.

Blair doesn’t have any previous experience working with a county fair, Flax said, but has strong community ties.

“There’s several things that he’s done,” Flax said. “He’s a big asset to the community … We thought he would be an excellent choice.”

Blair previously worked as the director of business development for Kapp Construction, is chairman of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and a member of the Springfield Foundation board.

Fair officials began in 2001 developing a 25-year master plan that includes adding buildings, a front gate redesign and other major upgrades.

Blair said officials plan changes to the marketing strategy for the fairgrounds and plan to work more closely with the Champions Center Expo.

He also said he wants to add buildings such as a multipurpose building, develop the lakes, increase attendance and revenue and develop partnerships with area organizations and businesses such as the CVB and the local chamber.

“I believe that (the fair’s) got great potential and I’d like to be part of what develops out there,” Blair said. “… I’m in high hopes I will be able to work with the different entities and hopefully bring an agricultural history but also a business sense to the fairgrounds and hope we can just take it on to the next level.”

The changes are meant to compete with nearby county fairs, including Madison and Montgomery County fairs, Flax and other county officials have said, but Blair said he doesn’t see those fairs as competition.

Clark County commissioners began investing into upgrading the local fairgrounds after the Montgomery County Fair was thought to be moving to the Northbrook Industrial Park in Brookville, allowing the old fairgrounds in Dayton to be redeveloped into a commercial property.

The deal didn’t materialize and Montgomery County Fair officials are now looking for a new location.

Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes has been in discussions with the Clark County Fair Board about its marketing strategy, purchasing a digital electronic sign that shows scheduling and additional upgrades to the fairgrounds.

“Montgomery County, they’re moving their fairgrounds closer to the highway. We have competition in Madison County with some new facilities they’ve put on their fairgrounds,” Lohnes said. “We’re looking in the future and when we look at the future at the fairgrounds, we have to include both the Champions Center and the fairgrounds doing things differently.”

He said the fairgrounds and the Champions Center are responsible for the majority of tourism in Clark County and it’s important for both to work together more closely.

Blair’s business and marketing experience will benefit the fairgrounds, Lohnes said.

“He’s had some experience in marketing, sales and advertising and he’s very familiar with everybody out there on both boards — the Champions board and the fair board. He came with a good resume and they were glad to get him,” Lohnes said.

Hess has been working for the fair since 1995 and the fair board will enter him into the hall of fame as the fair’s longest serving executive director.

Clark County Commissioner John Detrick praised his leadership.

“He’s done a very good job as director and this is one of the premier fairs in the state of Ohio and when it’s not a fair, it’s busy as a tourist attraction for the whole community because they have something going on out there every weekend under his leadership,” Detrick said.

Ohio Equine and Agricultural Association President Fred Maine, which oversees the Champions Center, said he’s looking forward to Blair becoming the new fair director.

“It’s going to be a very positive thing for both the fairgrounds and the Champions Center,” Maine said.

The Clark County Fairgrounds are in a great location near Interstate 70, Blair said, where there are plans for an industrial park and someday could be home to a new hotel.

“I really want to see us be able to get some new buildings at the fairgrounds and I think that will help us grow in notoriety and in drawing different things from different areas,” Blair said.

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