Valley Eyes More Events From Defunct Va. State Fair

5/5/2012 10:00 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent

Auction for Naming Rights, Land Set for May 22

HARRISONBURG, Va. — This much is certain: the youth livestock shows previously hosted at the State Fair of Virginia — which entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy in March — have found a new home at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds just south of Harrisonburg.

The show, now known as the Virginia Junior Livestock Expo, will be held Oct. 11-14 this year, and will serve as the culminating state event for 4-H and FFA livestock projects.

Meanwhile, as rumors swirl around the fates of other events held at the state fair, officials with the Rockingham County Fair say they’re discussing landing a few more to complement the Junior Livestock Expo.

“We’d like to build on the event that we already have booked,” said Jeff Ishee, general manager of the Rockingham County Fair, adding that additional announcements could be made within the next month.

According to Mike Gochenour, president of the Rockingham County Fair Association, other events formerly held at the state fair that the association is looking at include livestock and poultry judging and forestry judging.

“We’re in talks with the appropriate people, and there is a good chance that we’ll have more than just the Virginia Junior Livestock Expo (this fall),” Gochenour said.

Gochenour also said the association has discussed acquiring the naming rights, website and other things that would allow the Rockingham County Fairgrounds to become a long-term host to a state fair in Virginia. The group will proceed cautiously, however, to ensure that it remains in a strong financial position. A foreclosure auction for the state fairgrounds in Caroline County, plus naming rights to the event and its website, has been scheduled for May 22.

“We have an inclination that (the naming rights) are going to be out of our price range,” said Gochenour. “(But) that doesn’t mean that we’ve given up.”

He added that the Rockingham County Fair Association’s top priority remains the Rockingham County Fair.

In early March, the State Fair of Virginia Association (SFVA) Inc. entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy, meaning it will cease to host the state fair and its assets will be liquidated. After being held in Richmond almost every year for more than a century and a half, the state moved to new grounds near Doswell in 2009, where it took place through last fall.

According to other news reports, the SFVA depended on investment income to repay debts incurred to purchase the fairgrounds in Doswell. After the group’s investment portfolio declined by more than half in 2009, the SFVA was unable to make its debt payments and could not reach an agreement with its creditors to restructure the debt.

News of the state fair’s demise was met with regret by farm leaders throughout the state, who said the event served both as a celebration of Virginia’s largest industry — agriculture — and an important form of public outreach.

Cathy Sutphin, associate director of 4-H youth programs with Virginia Cooperative Extension, said the state fair livestock shows were important because they represent the culmination of the year’s livestock projects for youth.

“We still want them to have an opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned,” said Sutphin, who helped find a new home for the event in Rockingham County.

In addition to the swine, beef, sheep and goat shows, Sutphin said the junior stockman’s contest will be held at the Virginia Junior Livestock Expo. The junior dairyman’s contest will be held during the fall at Virginia Tech, in conjunction with some other dairy events, while the junior dairy show will likely be held on a dairy farm somewhere in the valley — though details about that have yet to be confirmed.

The state 4-H dog show — also formerly hosted at the state fair — will likely be held this year somewhere in northern Virginia, where most of the participants live, Sutphin added.

“We would love for the state fair to come back but we feel like it’s our obligation to (help) young people have their culminating event, whether it’s with the state fair or without,” Sutphin said.

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