Return to story
It has been just more than a week since the Meadow Event Park in Caroline County was sold, and the new owner's plans for a 10-day fair starting in September are still in development.
But with a $5.35 million winning bid, previous fair officials wonder if it was really worth all the bother.
In an interview, Curry Roberts, former president of the State Fair of Virginia, said he was not surprised at how low the winning bid was. He said when former fair officials were preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the creditors asked him what he thought it was worth.
"I told them between $5 and $5.5 million, and they asked me if I thought they were fools," Roberts said. "I hate to be proven correct through these circumstances, but ultimately we were correct."
Universal Fairs President Mark Lovell made the
Lovell said his Tennessee-based company plans to operate the fair this year from Sept. 28 to Oct. 7. He said he plans to keep the livestock exhibits and agricultural feel of the fair.
During the rest of the year, he plans to host a number of consumer shows, weddings, banquets, the Celtic Festival and possibly music festivals.
Universal Fairs puts on a variety of fairs, festivals and expos across the nation, including the recently acquired Georgia State Fair.
Roberts said he hopes Universal Fairs can uphold the 150-year tradition of the State Fair of Virginia.
"It was run, operated and managed by Virginians for Virginians because it was to showcase the best of Virginia," he said. "I'm curious to see how an events promotion company for a profit from Memphis is going to carry on those traditions."
The State Fair of Virginia Inc. filed a federal lawsuit against Universal Fairs in 2009 claiming that Universal's planned Richmond Fair was infringing on its trademark and was misleading vendors and potential fairgoers. The parties settled the lawsuit, and the Richmond Fair was never held.
Lovell said earlier that he was familiar with the lawsuit but not directly involved with it.
Billy Beale, chairman of the State Fair's board of directors, wished Universal Fairs success in its effort to create a diversified event emphasizing Virginia's agricultural industry.
"I would like to congratulate Universal Fairs on their being able to purchase The Meadow Event Park and the intellectual property for less than SFVA offered to the lenders in March," Beale, who is also chief executive officer of Union First Market Bankshares Corp., said on the day of the auction.
Beale's reference was to a $5.5 million offer from an unnamed Richmond-based real-estate developer that creditors rejected. The developer planned to lease the property back to the State Fair organization.
The creditors' rejection forced fair officials to convert the Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization filing into a Chapter 7 liquidation.
Christy Myatt, an attorney for Nexsen Pruet, who is representing a lender group headed by ArborOne Farm Credit of South Carolina, said higher offers were rejected because it would have taken more time to get the money. Myatt said the creditors will take a "huge loss," and that the specific amount will not be known until August or September.
She did say that $345,000 in scholarships will be awarded to students who have not yet received them.
"They are under no obligation to fund those, but the creditors decided to," she said last week.
Roberts said if creditors had accepted the developer's plan, there would have been no need for an auction, no question as to what kind of fair would be offered in the future and no doubts about the student scholarships being paid. And because the offer was rejected, about 20 full-time fair employees lost their jobs, he said.
"The bottom line is if [the creditors] negotiated in good faith in November, we could have worked this out and they probably would have [netted] more money than they are getting now," Roberts said.
"I'm not sour or bitter. I'm more bewildered by the decisions that seemingly intelligent people made. They chose to do it this way, and these were the results."
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419