Chapel Hill News

January 24, 2014

Orange County fair stops before it starts

The Orange County Board of Commissioners killed plans for a county fair Thursday but said the event might have a future chance at resurrection.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners killed plans for a county fair Thursday but said the idea might come back in the future.

The board split 4-3 on stopping work on the project. Commissioners Mark Dorosin, Renee Price and Chairman Barry Jacobs voted to keep planning for a spring 2015 event.

County staff reported that a two- to three-day fair could cost $187,380 to $243,594, including staff, site work and materials. An event planner could cost another $25,000 to $30,000.

After the board vote, Dorosin, who raised the idea for a fair last year, asked if there was enough support to at least hire the planner to firm up the details. A planner would need six months to do the work and find sponsors, staff said.

“It’s not going to be useful to come back here in six months and have these same estimates and make the same arguments,” Dorosin said. “If there are four votes to let the idea (of a fair) live, then we ought to invest a small amount of money, which we will ultimately try to recoup, to hire someone for four months to really vet these numbers.”

The board rejected that plan by the same 4-3 margin.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Earl McKee said the board should be careful with spending because of state education cuts and a potentially large shortfall in the city and county schools budgets.

“My particular concern is if we’re going to have to increase expenses, that it be done to the school systems, that it be done to core services, and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to do that without a tax increase,” he said.

There also were concerns about the condition of buildings at the Blackwood Farm property off N.C. 86 and New Hope Church Road – the proposed fair site – and the potential for large trucks to cause damage.

David Stancil, director of the Environment, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation department, said the county already did some stabilization work. There are ways to mitigate any potential damage to the land, staff said.

Not gone forever

Former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton said he thinks the fair is “a really fantastic idea” for showcasing local foods and agricultural products.

“It’s an opportunity to educate people about our county, and I think that it will be on the whole much more successful than any of the figures (provided to the board). We could charge more, we could get more people. This is going to be something that people are really drawn to,” he said.

Commissioners Penny Rich and Bernadette Pelissier said the vote to stop planning the fair doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Pelissier said she’s also concerned about how a fair would affect the farm’s future as a park.

“I would like to see it come up when we really discuss the plans for Blackwood Park,” she said. “When we get to that point, then I’m willing to consider.”

Dorosin said recently that the Hillsborough Area Chamber of Commerce’s decision to cancel Hogg Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to start a new spring fair. He and Price were appointed in June to lead a staff working group study of the costs, potential activities and other details. On Oct. 30, the group met with roughly 30 residents to get their input.

The fair doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should pay for itself and spotlight local folks, vendors, food, music, agriculture and history, he said.

“There’s a lot of excitement about this. It will be fun, and county government’s got to be more than about maintaining the same things that we’ve been doing all the time,” he said.

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