The Tennessee State Fair’s move to Wilson County to become part of the Wilson County Fair now needs only Gov. Bill Lee’s approval.
If Lee, as expected, signs the bill, the State Fair would move from its longtime home near downtown Nashville to Wilson County. The Tennessee House of Representatives approved the move 89-2 on April 22. The Tennessee Senate approved the move Monday, 30-0.
The fair will be named Wilson County Fair-Tennessee State Fair. Wilson County Promotions Vice President Jimmy Comer said the fair would remain a single, 10-day event and that the fairs would be held simultaneously. The announced 2021 dates are Aug. 12-21, with the theme, "Honoring Hometown Heroes."
"I think the State Fair's desire to move to Wilson County speaks volumes on the success we've had with the Wilson County Fair over the years. Everyone in Tennessee knows Wilson County has the biggest and best fair in Tennessee. It's even known nationally and internationally," Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, said. "I support the decision of Wilson County Promotions and Wilson County Government to allow the state fair come in and be a part of the Wilson County Fair."
Boyd said Wilson County legislators decided in the early portion of the process to step back and allow Wilson County Promotions and Wilson County leaders to make an independent decision without any influence from the county representatives at the Tennessee State Capitol.
The legislation approving the move was carried by Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, and Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville. Lee will need to sign the legislation for it to become law and take effect.
"We just wanted to be supportive and helpful in any way we could. I think it will work out well, and I look forward to seeing what it will look like moving forward. I think it will be a great fair," Boyd said.
Wilson County Promotions President Randall Clemons and Vice President Jimmy Comer discussed the move recently on WANT/WCOR’s “Coleman and Friends” radio program.
“The Wilson County Fair is continuing like it has always been and we’re just adding a little feature to it as well. It’s very important that we retain our identity as Wilson County Fair, that we continue to showcase the talents of Wilson County and that we be the family-oriented type fair that we have been since 1979,” said Clemons.
“It will, basically, be operated and run by the same group of volunteers and the executive committee that has in the past on it. We will incorporate some state people at various parts of it. We’re always open to new ideas and new energy,” Comer said. “It gives us the ability to solidify our future and to take the past 42 years that we built and add to it in the next 42 years on it. We can grow. It gives us a funding stream. Tennessee State Fair has a stigma. It’s had some issues here in the past on it but it does bring some credibility to the table for us.”
Fairgrounds Nashville is about 117 acres, The James E. Ward Ag Center, home of the Wilson County Fair, is 267 acres. Attendance at the Tennessee State Fair in 2019 was 105,148; the 2019 Wilson County Fair reported an attendance figure of nearly 580,000.
Wilson County and Wilson County Promotions will receive $5 million in the first year of the merger, according to the legislation. Clemons said the group would use $1 million for a birthing barn, $3.5 million for a new state building to house state competitions, $200,000 for two new restrooms facilities and the rest would go toward other necessities around the facility.
“It will be totally separated from the Wilson County Fair,” Clemons said of the new state building. “We’re not losing anything that Wilson County Fair has had.”
Comer said fairgoers should not expect much change with this year’s fair, but could start to see noticeable changes in the coming years.
“We’re very hungry to improve our infrastructure outside the grounds, as well as to use the money that the state puts our way to work on the inside of it,” Comer said.
Comer said the group and state would look to improve traffic flow around access points to the fairgrounds, which could include improvements from the interstate exit, Peyton Road improvements and upgrades on Baddour Parkway.
“We’re trying to use our voice and the state fair sticker to increase that discussion point,” Comer said.
The Tennessee State Fair and Exposition Committee recommended the move last year after the commission determined that its current state fair home, Fairgrounds Nashville, “lacks adequate facilities and is not a viable long-term home for the Tennessee State Fair.”
Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, said the move would present a sad day for Nashville, but appreciates the fair staying in Middle Tennessee and thinks it will be successful in Wilson County.
“I think a lot of people here have enjoyed having the state fair in Nashville. I know times change and Wilson County has done a really good job with their state fair,” Powell said. “I realize it’s time. It’s a bittersweet moment because a lot of great memories happened here in Nashville at our fairgrounds.”