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VOL. 128 | NO. 228 | Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mid-South Fair Leaders Seek Memphis Return

By Bill Dries

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The president of the Mid-South Fair says the nonprofit organization wants to return to Memphis.

The Mid-South Fair could be returning to Memphis. Organizers of the annual event that once meant a carnival midway like this at the Mid-South Fairgrounds say they are looking for about 100 acres in Memphis with more asphalt than grass, and sewer and utility connections.

(Daily News File)

“We were told to leave our home,” Michael Doyle, president of the fair, told Memphis City Council members of the fair’s departure as Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton made fifth-term plans for a renovation of the Mid-South Fairgrounds that originally included a new Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

That included demolition of several buildings and the livestock stalls and barns used by the fair.

The city did not renew the fair’s lease at the fairgrounds in 2008, making the 2008 fair the last at the facility.

The board of the nonprofit voted to move to Tunica in 2009 on 150 acres of land across U.S. 61 from what was then the Tunica Visitors Center. The state of Mississippi and Tunica County officials offered incentives, fair officials said at the time.

But the move never panned out, and an interim stay in Southaven became permanent. At least that seemed to be the case until Johnson and Doyle showed up during the council’s executive session Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Doyle and fair director Jessie Johnson talked to the council just before reporting to their board of directors that this year’s fair in Southaven saw attendance increase 18.9 percent from the year before, with 84,697 visitors.

“Most were from Memphis,” Doyle told the council, adding that the fair feels limited by its current space, which caused the fair to close its gates on a busy Saturday in which 5,000 to 6,000 were waiting in line.

By contrast, fair attendance in Memphis peaked in the 1990s at 550,000 over the 10-day event. But then it began to decline gradually, and by its last year at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, it was at 330,000.

“We’re Memphians located by chance in Mississippi,” Doyle said. “We want to return home somehow, someway.”

He and Johnson outlined a search for 100 acres with more asphalt than grass, and utility and sewer connections. Johnson said the organization will probably launch a capital campaign in three to four months to raise funds for permanent offices on such a site.

In the Mid-South Fair’s move south of the state line and a restructuring of the fair organization, the for-profit Delta Fair & Music Festival moved in with its event at Agricenter International in East Memphis.

Delta Fair founder and organizer Mark Lovell sought permission earlier this year to use Tom Lee Park for a second fair that he wanted to hold on the same dates as the Mid-South Fair at the Landers Center in Southaven.

The Riverfront Development Corp. denied Lovell’s request, prompting him to complain to the City Council.

In the process of checking out Lovell’s claims, council member Myron Lowery talked with Doyle and Johnson, who came to the council Tuesday with word of their desire to bring the fair back to Memphis.

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159