Flea Market wants Ag Center, Christmas for All wants compromise

By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post

Will the Nashville Flea Market set up shop at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center now that Metro Nashville officials have decided to do something different with its home at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds?

The decision by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean to halt the long-running, but money-losing state fair as of June 30, 2010 means that the flea market, the Nashville Rollergirls and other groups will have to find new venues for their operations and the Ward Ag Center may be one of those locations.

Members of the Wilson County Commission Ag Center Management Committee met Wednesday, and Larry Tomlinson, manager of the facility that is also known as Wilson County Fairgrounds, said he had been talking with officials with the flea market and others about possibly moving to the Ag Center. The committee told Tomlinson to continue negotiating with these groups to see what could be done.

“This is a real opportunity for Wilson County and the Ag Center,” Tomlinson said, “to attract some events from the State Fairgrounds.”

Some organizations, like Wilson County Christmas for All, are not too thrilled about this possibility because they will be moved from their space at the Ag Center.

Jim Harding, spokesman for Christmas for All, said that his organization, which is a not-for-profit that collects and delivers toys to children countywide during Christmas, holds their warehouse at the Turner Evans building at the Ag Center. It just so happens that the Nashville Flea Market has been looking at the same building to hold their event.

“A lot of promises and money have been waved around,” Harding said, “but I don’t think it will come through.”

Harding noted “The committee put this decision in Larry Tomlinson’s lap, and that’s a lot of responsibility. I hope to sit down with Larry and work this out.”

Christmas for All has been around for 20 years in various forms and became incorporated as a not-for-profit in 2003. They work with the Mt. Juliet Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Watertown Angel Tree to give toys to needy children around the county.

“We opened our office this Monday,” Harding said, “and we’ll open the warehouse on Nov. 30. We will stay open for about 17 days and leave toys until Christmas just in case someone’s house burns or some emergency like that.”

Harding said that when they know where they are going to be, they can start advertising and fund raising as early as July. He also said that having a set location ahead of time gives them more time to work instead of looking for an empty building.

He said last year they helped 20 percent more children than the year before, totaling around 4,000 children across the county.

“This program will suffer if we have to move,” Harding said. “We don’t drag the county down monetarily. We pull our weight. The flea market is looking at two Saturdays and would pay around $300 whereas we pay anywhere from $1,000 - $1,400 for the same space.”

Harding and Tomlinson said they do not want to lose sight of what the Ward Ag Center was built for, which was community service. Tomlinson noted that it does not need to be a burden on taxpayers, and added that the more sources of revenue they can attract, the better it would be for the county.

Staff Writer Ben Dudley may be contacted at ben@wilsonpost.com.