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Va. Farm Bureau eyes buying at least part of fair

Thursday - 7/5/2012, 4:21pm  ET

RICHMOND, Va. - The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is negotiating to buy at least part of the State Fair of Virginia from the new owner of the historic Caroline County property, a spokesman for the farm lobby said Thursday.

Farm bureau spokesman Greg Hicks said the federation has been in talks with Universal Fairs LLC to operate an unspecified portion of the fair. He said an announcement is expected by early next week.

While the Farm Bureau has no interest in operating the fair, Hicks said the federation is concerned about the agricultural exhibition continuing its 150-year- old run.

"We're the state's largest farm organization," Hicks said. "It's our mission to preserve, protect and help agriculture prosper. The State Fair is certainly one of those vehicles that would help that."

Universal Fairs LLC of Cordova, Tenn., bought the 331-acre property, once home to Triple Crown winner Secretariat, at auction May 22 for $5.67 million.

While Universal president Mark Lovell said then he planned to operate the property as a "full-event facility" with the fair and other activities, he added he would be open to a sale. "Everything I own is for sale," he said.

The Associated Press presented a list of questions to Universal for Lovell, who was not immediately available Thursday.

State Fair of Virginia Inc. acquired the Meadow Farm property in 2003 for $5.3 million and moved the annual fair from Richmond, where it had been held since 1854. The nonprofit defaulted on about $80 million in financing from a group of creditors and was forced to liquidate.

After the site underwent nearly $100 million in construction projects, the fair debuted in Caroline County in September 2009. Attendance hit a record 250,000 last year, but the group was unable to make money after the fair left Richmond.

The organization took on massive debt for the project, even as the economy worsened and the stock-market slump shrank its investment portfolio. At the same time, it failed to curb spending, including salaries.

Besides the property, Lovell's winning bid included the State Fair of Virginia's trademark, name, Web presence and some equipment. It included a 12,900- square-foot manor house, a 76,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 9,700-square-foot pavilion and an extensive equestrian facility.

The Farm bureau had a presence at the fair, including naming rights for the large exhibition hall and a booth.

Hicks called the fair "a really good showcase for agriculture. It provides a means for young farmers to compete with livestock shows and helps build leadership roles.

"A lot of good comes out of the fair for agriculture, but the public is also able to learn a lot from it," he said.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch first reported on the negotiations.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.

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Online:

Universal Fairs LLC: http://www.universalfairs.com/

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation: http://vafarmbureau.org/

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)