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Virginia State Fair gets new lease on life

Sunday - 5/27/2012, 6:35am  ET

AP: 844215e5-0288-4ab3-915e-131921aba199
This Wednesday, March 28, 2012 file photo shows an entrance to the 360-acre Meadow Event Park site, in Doswell, Va. The site is being sold at foreclosure sale after the State Fair of Virginia Inc. defaulted on more than $80 million in financing from a group of creditors. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

WASHINGTON - It's been a wild ride when it comes to the Virginia State Fair. But after it went bankrupt and its land was sold, the event got a fairy-tale ending.

The 150-year-old nonprofit fair and the event site was recently purchased by Mark Lovell, who says the fair will go on.

Lovell owns Universal Fairs, a for-profit Tennessee-based company that stages festivals and fairs. He successfully bid $5.35 million at an auction for the State Fair of Virginia's intellectual property and its real estate last week.

Lovell now owns the Meadow Event Park, where the fair moved to in 2009 from its longtime home at the Richmond Raceway in Henrico County.

Lovell said at a news conference Tuesday that he has already contracted for midway rides and vendors, and plans to stage the fair Sept. 28 through Oct. 7.

Tuesday's live auction featured Meadow Event Park's real estate, including 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 package also includes the State Fair of Virginia trademark, website and social media accounts. Secretariat's preserved foaling shed and yearling barn also is on the property.

The organization took on massive debt for the project, even as the economy worsened and the stock-market slump shrank its investment portfolio. It also failed to curb spending, with State Fair president Curry A. Roberts and a handful of officers continuing to draw outsized salaries, according to documents in the bankruptcy case as well as SFVA's own filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

The group filed for bankruptcy protection in December and proposed to buy out the bondholders to settle the debt. The creditors declined, saying the offered amount wasn't near what they were owed. SFVA subsequently liquidated its assets.

Several groups had expressed interest in buying the property and staging this year's fair in September, as regularly scheduled. Lovell was one of nearly a dozen bidders at the auction, which wrapped up in about half an hour.

SFVA Inc. sued Universal Fairs for trademark infringement and unfair competition in 2009, alleging that its affiliates were improperly using "State" in the name of a planned rival event that year at the Richmond International Raceway complex - the longtime home of the fair before it moved to Caroline County. Universal Fairs agreed to stop using "State" and the sides settled the lawsuit. The event wasn't held at the raceway.

WTOP's Kathy Stewart and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP & the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)