MANKATO — After 154 years serving the surrounding community, the Blue Earth County Fair suddenly finds itself fighting for survival due to plummeting attendance and allegations of financial mismanagement.
The Blue Earth County Agricultural Society, which organizes the fair, plans to respond by proposing to move the county fair to Mankato and selling the Shady Oaks Campgrounds.
On Tuesday, the fair board held both its annual and monthly meetings to discuss the proposal. Several of the fair's shareholders attended the meetings to voice opposition to moving the fair from its agricultural home in Garden City. The debate is poised to shape the future of one of Minnesota's longest running county fairs.
Low attendance, low funds
Newly elected Fair Board President Kelly Marks, a station manager with Three Eagles Communications, and board member Matt Little, owner of Buster's Sports Bar, laid out their views of the situation to the audience: They must move or it will die.
Marks said the fair has institutional problems with its location. She said attendance plummeted from roughly 15,000 visitors per year just six years ago to barely 5,000 visitors this year. She said the fair has also been running a deficit for several years. The organization lost $2,472 in 2010, $11,410 in 2012 and $3,102 in 2013. The Fair Board no longer has any reserve funds.
She said that even with the attendance boost to just over 8,000 visitors during the 150th anniversary, the fair lost money. She said the organization would have gone out of business last year if it had not taken out a $30,000 loan.
In the most dramatic example, a former board member sued the fair board and the former president last year over bounced checks that were supposed to pay for her work for the fair. The case was settled for $1,700 last October.
"We had perfect weather this year, but we still only had 5,000 people. We're one day of bad weather away from going out of business," said Marks. "With the loan we have, we are at risk of losing the campground."