County fair to find new home at Biscuit Run?

Biscuit Run is still a long way off from opening as a state park—if the stars align, no earlier than 2014—but officials in Richmond are exploring the option of allowing the currently homeless Albemarle County Fair to operate on the site.

Funnel cakes at Biscuit Run? “The location is great, the accessibility to major roads is good,” says Albemarle County Fair President Rob Harrison. Lots of meetings, referenda, and paperwork stand between the fair and a new home—but no one’s ruling it out.

“We’ve been asked to give consideration to finding a way of allowing the Albemarle County Fair to utilize the property during the fair,” says Joseph Elton, state parks director. “It’s not happened before in any other state park that we actually become the home of the county fair, but I think smart minds could probably figure out a way where any facilities developed would have multiple uses that could serve outdoor recreation.”

That comes as good—and surprising—news for the Albemarle County Fair organizers. “I’m glad that we’re on the state’s radar. That’s great,” says Rob* Harrison, president of the Albemarle County Fair’s board of directors. “There’s a whole lot of conversation that would have to happen. I think the location is great, the accessibility to major roads is good. I think it’s something that could work for us.”

For most of its 29-year history, the county fair had operated at Bundoran Farm in North Garden, even after Fred Scott sold the 2,300-acre property for $30.8 million to land developers in 2006. After the sale, fair organizers signed a five-year lease with an option to renew. In late July, however, just before the 2010 fair got under way, Bundoran developers notified the fair that the lease would be terminated so that it could add about 100 houses.

“When we first signed it, we thought it would be a permanent relationship,” says Harrison. “But it wasn’t.”

In the long run, that could work out in the fair’s best interests. It had no permanent structures at Bundoran Farm, and Harrison estimates that the temporariness of the set-up—putting up poles, running electricity, stowing it all away off site—ate up almost $40,000 of the fair’s operating costs. “If you do the math on a $7 ticket, that’s a whole lot of people to come in just to do that,” says Harrison. “One of the reasons we have a hard time making money is because we have that year after year.”

A move to Biscuit Run is far from a done deal. From the state’s perspective, one issue is whether Biscuit Run’s conservation deed restrictions would allow for the fair. Another is whether the master planning advisory committee, which is not yet in place, deems it a good idea. But if that all works out, Elton says, “then I think there probably wouldn’t be any problems on our end.”

That process, however, isn’t likely to result in any permanent set-up in time for the 2011 fair. Funding to construct the master plan would likely come out of a 2012 general bond referendum that the governor, the General Assembly, and voters would need to approve. Assuming that happened, construction couldn’t begin until bonds are sold in early 2013, and construction would depend on a speedy approval process for the park plan—something iffy, given the usual nature of Albemarle public meetings.

Naturally, the county fair is still keeping its options open. “We haven’t narrowed anything down really. We’re looking around all over still,” Harrison says.

If no permanent home is found by the end of this year, Harrison says the fair will start considering a scaled-down version for 2011. “But I don’t think we’ll have a fair like we’re used to next year unless we find something in the next few months.”

*This article was changed April 27, 2011, to correct Mr. Harrison’s name. 

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