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September 26, 2010

Beer and wine may be in the mix

Fair Park board chairman studies revenue sources for the facility

ATHENS — The Chairman of the Henderson County Fair Park Board is looking into getting more sources of revenue for the facility, including the sale of beer and wine at certain events there.

Board Chairman Bob Miars said he is examining the possibility of sale of alcoholic beverages at the facility, but that’s not his top priority.

In August, Henderson County Commissioners approved the board’s request to change the facility’s name to the Henderson County Regional Fair Park. That change, he said, will make the Fair Park eligible for grants to make improvements there. Commissioners also voted to allow the Fair Park Board to request the state legislation for a 2-percent Hotel Occupancy Tax for the County.

Miars has been working toward getting the request ready to go when the next legislature meets in January.

 “For the past 20 years, the facility has been self-supporting with minimal input from the county,” Miars said. “The county does not have the funds to make any kind of improvements out there.”

Any grants the facility might receive would require local matching funds, and the occupancy tax would enable the financially-strapped county to make those matches, Miars said.

Although Miars rates those topics above the possibility of beer and wine sales, some are concerned that the issue has come up at all as a complex that is the host site for so many youth events. Sixteen-year board member Ken Hayes has been vocal about his opposition, and even purchased radio time to air his views.

“Bob’s got his agenda, and I’ve got mine,” Hayes said. “His is getting alcohol out there, and mine is to see to it that he doesn’t. I’ve told him that twice. It’s a place where there are too many children. I just don’t think that’s the place for it. Kids have enough peer pressure as it is.”

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Joe Hall attended the latest Fair Park Board meeting Tuesday, and said he is opposed to efforts to bring beer and wine sales to Fair Park. Hall said the Park Board seems to be divided about pursuing alcoholic beverage sales as a revenue source.

“I think the county would be responsible for any liability that would come as a result of beer and wine being sold there,” Hall said. “If anyone filed a law suit because of a drunk driver who’d been drinking there, they’d come after the one with the biggest pocket first. That would be the county.”

Hall also cited the importance of the complex as a home for youth events and competitions. The Henderson County Livestock Show, the 4-H Spring Rendezvous and various youth horse shows are among those. But, Miars said, it has also been a site for events that attract adults, such as the Cattle Baron’s Ball. Miars said beer has already been sold at some events.

Miars blames the economic downturn for recent cancellation of shows at the complex and decreased attendance at many of the shows that did take place.

“We do expect 2011 to be better, with the additional shows that we already have booked,” Miars said. “Most of these shows are booked months and years in advance. We actually had shows that started canceling on us back in 2009. There weren’t many shows you could go to make up for the cancellations because they are booked so far in advance.”

Miars said church groups have been operating the concession stands at many events, and thinks the arrangement is good for the Fair Park, because the church members operating the concessions eliminates the need to hire people to staff them.

“The concession stands are leased out to church groups, and we are very concerned about that,” Miars said. “My thought is to actually build a separate cantina or concession stand where the beer and wine will be sold, so we would not compromise our situation with the church groups, and they could still be able to do that to raise money.”

Hayes thinks church groups will be reluctant to put their members to work at a place where alcohol is sold.

“Last month, the Auditor’s Office wrote the Eastern Hills Church of Christ a check because they run the concession stands,” Hayes said. “Do you think they’re going to send those kids to run those concession stands with all that mess down there?”

Hall said beer and wine sales might bring in more revenues, but several people have told him that they would no longer attend events at the arena if that took place. Extra security would also have to be hired to make sure beer and wine customers don’t leave with the beverages.

“I think it’s a wash,” Hall said. “They may make some more, but why go to all that trouble if they’re going to lose people too.”

Hall thinks signs at the arena advertising alcohol would take away from the wholesome atmosphere at the complex. He also believes it will send an unwritten message to the youth that, “if people drink it there, it must be all-right.”

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