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VOL. 125 | NO. 176 | Friday, September 10, 2010

Fair Game

Delta, Mid-South fairs work to create separate identities

SARAH BAKER | Special to The Daily News

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During the same week the Mid-South Fairgrounds saw the page turn on its history as home to midways and exhibits when Tiger Lane, the new tailgating feature outside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium opened, the story of fairs continues in other parts of the community.

The Delta Fair & Music Festival, in its fourth year, is under way through Sunday at Agricenter International. And the 154th annual Mid-South Fair, the former tenant of the fairgrounds property, will get under way later this month at its temporary home in Southaven as it awaits its permanent home in Tunica County.

The two fairs, with ties to the same Cordova-based company, are seeking separate growth.

Cordova-based Universal Fairs LLC is owned by Mark Lovell, who also owns the Delta Fair. Universal Fairs is under contract through 2011 to produce the Mid-South Fairgrounds at Southaven’s DeSoto Civic Center.

Jeff Klayman, director of sponsorship sales and media at Universal Fairs, said the Agricenter International location benefits both parties.

“It’s a great, centrally located place, with enough space for expanding what we have each year,” Klayman said.

And the Mid-South community seems to embrace the fair’s new endeavors, despite the recession.

Chuck Norris of GameARama stocks stuffed toys on the balloon game along the carnival midway.
Photos: Lance Murphey

“I think that tourism outside of the region is probably suffering, but that’s actually a good thing for the fair,” Klayman said. “We’ve had some amazing weather and the attendance is way up over previous years.”

But how much of that attendance boost has to do with the Mid-South Fair’s relocation from Memphis a couple of years ago?

For the first two years of the Delta Fair, both fairs existed well together in the same city, Klayman said.

Anna Holt, 11, and sister Sarah Holt, 15, take a break from working at the 4-H Corn Crib booth. The Delta Fair runs through Sunday and features a variety of entertainment including pig racing, banana derby, ostrich racing, music and a full carnival midway.

“The Mid-South Fair had a different audience than what came out here those years, and I think the departure had a factor,” he said. “North Mississippi is a great growing area where the Mid-South Fair can certainly have its success in the second year.”

Unlike its nonprofit contender, the Delta Fair is a for-profit organization with “extremely limited” funding provided from the state.

Low funds are all too familiar to the Mid-South Fair, whose new Tunica County site off U.S. 61 has been postponed because of the $33 million price tag needed to complete the first phase.

The 154th edition of the Mid-South Fair is set for Sept. 24-Oct. 3 in its second year at the DeSoto Civic Center, located at Interstate 55 and Church Road in Southaven.

The Mid-South Fair will continue to be housed by the center until 2015, defined by a leasing agreement between the two groups.

But the civic center is merely half the size of the Mid-South Fairgrounds’ 168 acres.

The DeSoto County facility sits on about 85 acres and has a 10,000-seat arena, a 400-seat performing arts theater and about 17,500 square feet of convention hall space.

And with the new location comes various obstacles, said Belinda Anderson, president of the Mid-South Fair and interim general manager.

Steve Harvey hangs a banner at the Delta Fair and Music Festival at Agricenter International.

“We have growing pains, but I have been told by fair officials that it takes two to three years for it to begin to grow after moving to a new location,” Anderson said. “I am very optimistic; we did really well last year and I think we’ll do even better this year.”

And while the DeSoto Civic Center does not provide the same infrastructure as the fairgrounds, the livestock and the 4-H program are among the Mid-South Fair’s top concerns.

In Memphis, Klayman said there is a market for the offerings of a fair.

He was among the Delta Fair organizers who studied fairs across the country, including the recently revived Tennessee State Fair in Nashville, and the Michigan State Fair, which is in jeopardy of being discontinued.

“We’ve found that people are looking for the fair food, the fair fun, concerts and rides first,” Klayman said.

Lovell said there are only a handful of fairs that have as many free attractions, shows and entertainment that come with the admission price.

And with each passing year, he said, the Delta Fair makes necessary adjustments. 2008 was a strengthening year for the crafts and culinary departments, while 2009 focused on supporting the 4-H club, a youth organization sponsored by the Department of Agriculture and Future Farmers of America.

“With the departure of the Mid-South Fair, the youth would have lost that support,” Klayman said.

In fact, one of the main focuses of 2010 at the Delta Fair is the agriculture program, which is several times larger than last year. While it may not be the most profitable aspect of the fair, Klayman admitted, it is important to the region.

PROPERTY SALES 0 283 8,118
MORTGAGES 0 333 9,118
BANKRUPTCIES 0 109 5,268