Wilson County is one step closer to becoming the new home of the Tennessee State Fair after the Tennessee State Fair and Exposition Commission unanimously approved preliminary plans Monday to move the annual event.
The state commission’s potential relocation decision marks the first step in what could be a lengthy process to relocate the fair, which could happen during the Tennessee General Assembly session next year.
The commission’s decision to move forward will likely include meetings with Gov. Bill Lee and other state officials, as well as Wilson County Promotions leaders.
“I think it moves it forward to where, at least, they could consider it. I think that’s about all it does,” State Fair Commission chairman Charles Hatcher said. “It’s going to take a statute change to make anything happen past that, and funding.”
Earlier this year, Wilson County Promotions, which runs the popular county fair in Lebanon, submitted an “Expression of Interest” in being a potential site to host the state fair. Maury County and Davidson County also formally applied to be the host site.
Jeff Aiken, State Fair Commission member and president of Tennessee Farm Bureau, presented the report of the commission’s advisory group that evaluated Wilson County and the James E. Ward Ag Center as a potential site for the state fair.
Aiken said positive aspects of Wilson County as the site of the state fair includes existing facilities at the James E. Ward Ag Center, the experience of Wilson County Promotions in operating a large-scale fair, the large volunteer base of the Wilson County Fair (about 1,3000 volunteers), community support for the Wilson County Fair and the Wilson County Fair’s emphasis on agriculture.
Aiken said the advisory group considered Wilson County Promotions’ desire to keep “Wilson County” as a prominent piece of the potential name of the relocated state fair as a negative, along with potential date conflicts of the state fair with others across the state. Wilson County Promotions’ carnival vendor contract does not expire until 2026.
A contract length of 20 years was reported, as well as potential property upgrades, including additional parking, facilities and land.
“There are multiple things that Wilson County Promotions would actually propose as we go forward. Their overall vision, if everything was accomplished, would be somewhere in the range of $14 million,” Aiken said.
Jimmy Comer spoke on behalf of Wilson County Promotions about the necessary improvements that would need to come with the state fair’s move to Wilson County.
“We are very interested and receptive in working this process out. Funding is a necessity,” Comer said. “We’re barely doing what we need to do today. We do need help with infrastructure on the grounds and outside the grounds in order to make this Tennessee State Fair what I suspect y’all want it to be. We’re on board, but funding is a critical part of our acceptance on this process.”
The state 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.”
Fairgrounds Nashville is about 117 acres, compared to the 267-acre James E. Ward Ag Center, home of the Wilson County Fair.
Attendance at the Tennessee State Fair in 2019 was 105,148; the 2019 Wilson County reported an attendance figure of nearly 580,000.