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It’s the intersection of American blues and British rock.

When you throw some Foghat onto the stereo, you’re entering a realm as big and powerful as the tunes radiating from a quartet that was at the heart of the soundtrack of the 1970s.

With the purchase of 8 acres in Bryson City, Swain County will now have an outdoor event area to host county fairs, kids carnivals and more. 

Haywood County is back on the prowl for potential sites to build a new $3 million animal shelter to replace its existing one.

County commissioners initially set their sights on an empty field at the Haywood County Fairgrounds. But that is now off the table due to deed hang-ups — namely legal covenants limiting what the fairground property can be used for.

The Haywood County Fairgrounds is being eyed as the possible site for a new county animal shelter.

The fairgrounds was identified as a potential site by county leaders unbeknownst to the Haywood County Fair Board, who may have reservations about whether it’s compatible.

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Recently, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows made the rounds in his district visiting with constituents. While in Haywood County, he made a stop at the county fair. With a table full of political schwag, the representative held court in a building sandwiched between agricultural exhibitions and carnival rides. 

art haywoodfairIt’s that time of year again. The Haywood County Fair will be taking place from Wednesday, Aug. 22, to Sunday, Aug. 26. The fairgrounds will officially be open to the public at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Admission is $2 per person or $6 per carload.

Summer is slowly turning to fall, school doors are opening for another year, and another hallmark of the season is just around the corner: the Haywood County Fair.

Aug. 23 to 29, the Haywood County Fairgrounds will come alive with events, contests and vendors, as well as the rides and fairway foods that are requisite at every county fair.

A new feature this year will be a draft-horse and mule pulling contest scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27. Horse and mule teams will attempt to pull a dead sled with 500 pound weights added after each successful pull. Teams may enter in one of four classes: light horses, light mules, heavy horses and heavy mules.

FULL LIST OF EVENTS HERE

Saturday also will give the county’s youngest performers a chance to shine at the new youth talent competition, held at 3 p.m. For youngsters more grammatically inclined, a spelling bee could be the venue to show off their skills. For the artists, there’s Saturday’s pumpkin-decorating contest and if you prefer eating food over painting it, an ice cream-eating contest is also on the ballot.

Throughout the week, the fairway and fair facilities will be full of attractions such as local craft vendors, farmers touting their prize vegetables and a petting zoo for the younger crowd. Standard fair fare will be available for hungry patrons, but if funnel cakes aren’t cutting it, a fish fry on Friday afternoon, barbecue lunch by the Haywood County’s Future Farmers of America and a local farm lunch on Sunday morning will offer more substantial dining options. They do cost extra, however, and the luncheon requires tickets. Oh, and don’t forget the cakewalk and cake judging on Saturday morning.

The fair isn’t forgetting its musical heritage, either. In addition to the youth talent show, a hoedown is scheduled for Friday evening, with entertainment peppered throughout the rest of the week. Sunday afternoon, the Smoky Mountain Jubilee will cap off the week’s festivities. Local favorites Balsam Range and other Appalachian acts will perform and the evening will be emceed by former State Sen. Joe Sam Queen.

A fair, of course, isn’t a fair without animals. And in the livestock competition arena, dairy and beef cattle, sheep and goats, horses and even pigs will parade their skills and conformation. Kids with canine friends can show them off at Saturday’s dog show. There will be a game of kid-and-canine musical chairs, a chance to do some tricks for treats and an agility demonstration by trained dogs.

Horses also will prove their pulling skills in a series of horse pulls, along with the more mechanical truck pulls and tractor pulls. The tractor event will give fairgoers a unique opportunity to see some old-fashioned tractors in action. Only pre-1960 models will be allowed to compete in the antique contest.

The fairgrounds will be open on Tuesday for competitors to drop off exhibits, but will be closed for judging until 5 p.m. Wednesday. Gates will open at 9 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Sunday’s festivities will start at 11 a.m. Exhibits can be picked up Monday. Fair admission is $2 per person, or $6 per car.

The Haywood County Fairgrounds are on the way to being back in business after a scare that shuttered the covered arena for code-compliance violations.

An infusion of cash by Haywood County commissioners saved the fairgrounds from cancelling upcoming events at the arena, which would have hurt the local economy and killed off the fairground’s main revenue stream.

The arena lacks permanent bathrooms and instead uses port-a-potties during events. As a result, the arena has been operating with a temporary building permit for the past five years.

ALSO: County’s leading critic stirs up trouble for fairground arena

The temporary permit has expired, however, forcing the covered arena to shut down, and in turn canceled upcoming events for the year unless someone came up with $400,000 for restrooms.

The Haywood Agricultural and Activities Board, which operates the fairgrounds, didn’t have the cash.

With the fate of the facility on the line, the fair board again appealed county commissioners for financial help. At their meeting this week, several members of the community spoke to how vital the place is to the county, its economy and its heritage.

“The fairgrounds are an important part of our agricultural heritage in Western North Carolina. It’s a big reason why people like and visit here in Haywood County. It’s part of who we are,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the Greater Haywood Chamber of Commerce, at Monday’s commission meeting.

He, like other supporters, expressed concern that once events left the arena, it would be increasingly challenging to court them back.

It marks the second time in a year the county has put up a cash infusion to save the arena and fairgrounds. The fairground arena was nearly lost to foreclosure last year after defaulting on a loan dating to its construction.

The fairgrounds once received an annual contribution from the county, which covered the loan payment. But when the recession hit, the county cut its contribution to the fairground, and it was left with no way to pay the loan.

So the county ultimately stepped in and paid off $337,000 left on the loan.

 

Good use of county money?

Not everyone spoke out in favor of the fairground, however. Some wondered why the facility had failed these 21 years to become self-sustaining, part of its original mission and still one of the current board’s main goals. They asked commissioners to let the fairground succeed or fail on its own, without more county help, especially since it’s not an essential government service.

But commissioners were sympathetic to the fairground’s plight, reminding the audience that the county provided 75 percent of the site’s funding until it was pulled three years ago, thanks to the tanking economy.

How many entities — churches, businesses, individuals — could be expected to survive without help if they lost 75 percent of their revenue, asked Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick also stepped in to defend the county’s support of the fairground as important, even if it is non-essential.

“This is not necessarily an essential government function, but there’s a lot of things that government does that are not an essential government functions. It’s more a quality of life issue,” said Kirkpatrick, to applause from the audience.

The county has spent over $1.7 million on the fairground since 1990, including paying off the loan last year, according to County Finance Director Julie Davis.

And while members of the fairground board say they’re looking at every possible revenue stream outside county coffers, it’s not exactly the best time to go on a money hunt.

Their most promising lead is a federal loan, but it hasn’t panned out — the loan agency won’t have funds to lend until the federal government has a budget in place, which may still take weeks or months. So the board is looking to other ideas to get the fairground back on its feet.

“We are looking at grant opportunities and other possible loan opportunities, we’re looking at the possibility of corporate sponsorships, we’re trying to look in as many places as we can come up with to make this work,” said Fair Board Member Nancy Davis, who also heads up the dog show slated to appear this June, one of the major events in jeopardy because of the closure.

Davis said the board didn’t know that the temporary occupancy permit would, or could, be a problem, and they were surprised by the arena’s closure.

But, she said they’ve been working hard on ideas that will push the facility into self-sufficiency, and they’re trying to take the place that’s been kept alive by the sweat and toil of volunteers on to the next level.

 

Working toward solvency

Enter Aaron Mabry. Mabry is a Haywood County native who has been brought on to beef up the fairgrounds offerings and schedule, to pitch it, full-time, to any event he can find.

He’s excited about the possibilities for the site, and sees self-sufficiency within three to four years as an extremely attainable goal.

“You’ve got car shows, you’ve got cook-off’s, you’ve got other types of fair events that we’ve never done before,” Mabry rattled off confidently. “It’s really unlimited as to what you can do, it’s just a matter of taking the time and the resources you have.”

The site has long been agriculturally focused — most of the events held here have an agrarian connection in some form or another. And while Mabry doesn’t see this as a bad thing — the heritage and lifeblood of Haywood County is, after all, farming and the fairground facilities lend themselves to agricultural events — he’s keen to widen the field on what kind of events and clients come to the fairground. And it’s safe to say he’s ambitious about the prospects, given that he’s now able to dedicate his efforts to selling the fairground full-time.

When asked how many events he’d like to see there annually, he’s quick to answer: “365.”

“Up to now, it’s really just been marketed for the weekend,” said Mabry. “I’d like to have an event here every single day, that’s my goal, to bring in consistent weekly revenue that’s dependable.”

The first step in getting there, though, he said, is getting the arena back open, getting its bathrooms up to par.  

According to Haywood County Facilities Director Dale Burris, the place should be completed and ready for inspection by June 15, just in time to accommodate the June 18-19 dog show.

And as for the county, County Manager Marty Stamey said the county is not over-extending itself. For now, money will be pulled from the county’s fund balance, but they’ll seek a short construction loan with the approval of the Local Government Commission to repay the fund balance, then hopefully recoup that with the sale of one of the county’s currently or  soon-to-be vacant buildings. Those properties promise to bring in upwards of $3 million, when sold.

They’ll also draft an agreement between the county and the fairground, making sure that if the fairground becomes profitable, they’ll try to pay the money back.

Haywood County commissioners will be stepping in to save the county’s fairground from the bank’s clutches after a vote at their Monday meeting.

The fairgrounds have two loans taken out on their buildings, and since the county slashed the $150,000 annual stipend it once gave the fairgrounds board several years ago, their ability to make payments has suffered. When a balloon payment for the remaining balance on the loans — just over $337,000 — came due in March, the fair board was able to work out a deal with the bank to make interest-only payments until Dec. 25 of this year. The plan, then, was for the county to step in, purchase the buildings and pay off the loans with 40-year USDA loan that they’d already applied for.

But when the federal budget stalled earlier this year, it put the brakes on USDA funding until a final version was passed that would lay out how much, if any, money would be available for cities and counties.

When it became apparent that this wasn’t going to happen in time to pay the fairground debt, county officials started devising an alternative plan.

First Citizens Bank, who holds the loans, couldn’t offer any more leeway to the fairgrounds board and there wasn’t enough money in the coffers to pay them. So they county has signed a memorandum of understanding with Haywood County Fairgrounds, Inc. to loan them the $337,100.59 for a principal payment, which they will hopefully recoup by receiving the USDA loan early next year to purchase the buildings outright. The county already owns the land they sit on. The fairgrounds board will pay the interest.

“In today’s world, we can’t just keep making interest payments, because the banks are accountable,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley told fellow commissioners. “We’re kind of in a tough spot because, by the end of this year, the bank will call our loan.”

County Finance Manager Julie Davis said that the plan will work out nicely if the USDA money pans out, because at a 40-year amortization it will have a limited effect on the county’s budgets year-to-year. But, she said, not getting that funding isn’t out of the question.

“That’s a definite possibility,” Davis said. “The board has been thinking about that. We don’t have a plan at this point, but the options are that we do nothing or get a conventional loan,” which would be far more than they want to spend with the shorter terms on such loans.

For now, though, the fairgrounds are out of hot water and the county is keeping its eye on the USDA federal budget and its hopes up for a loan in the new year.

With a large loan payment looming and not enough money to pay it, the fairgrounds turned to Haywood commissioners this week to save it from foreclosure.

Commissioners voted Monday to purchase the fairgrounds facilities and apply for a 40-year U.S. Department of Agriculture loan of between $600,000 and $800,000 to pay off the outstanding debt and make improvements.

The fairgrounds board had counted on annual contributions from the county to cover loan payments on two new additions: a covered arena the size of a football field and a second indoor exhibition hall.

But the fairgrounds, along with all other nonprofits, lost all its funding when the county cut its budget after the recession struck.

“They more or less left us holding the bag,” said Skipper Russell, a farmer and president of the fairgrounds board.

The loan on two buildings totals roughly $337,000.

The county has already pumped $989,871 into the fairgrounds since 1999. Haywood owns the 25-acre property, but not the facilities on it, which include two large exhibition buildings, a livestock barn and a covered arena.

Since the 100 percent cut in its county funding, the fairgrounds has been limping along. It hasn’t been able to install restrooms, concession stands or bleachers at the arena, making it difficult to attract events to the 68,000 square foot venue.

“I think our board of commissioners have put them in a bad position,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley, who also serves on the fairgrounds board.

On Monday, the county agreed to be responsible for about $15,000 annually in property and liability insurance, as well as $25,000 to $40,000 in start-up costs the first year.

Haywood commissioners will also appoint a seven-member governing board to replace the now 27-member fairgrounds board, though a new advisory board will also be created.

Fairground revenues will pay for a full-time fairgrounds manager responsible for marketing, as well as maintenance and utilities. Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick has proposed that the revenues in excess of a certain amount should go toward the loan payment.

If the USDA loan is approved, it would likely carry debt payments of $40,000 per year — far less than what the county has contributed annually in the past.

In previous years, the county had devoted $150,000 annually to the fairgrounds.

“It’s just a Catch-22,” said Commissioner Mark Swanger. “With an incomplete fairgrounds, it’s difficult to attract the venues and events that would make the center profitable. But you can’t get the money to do that because you don’t have the events.”

Swanger said the board would face the same conundrum year after year unless commissioners made a decision to assist the fairgrounds. Most commissioners were quick to distinguish the fairgrounds from other nonprofits since the county owns the fairgrounds property.

They also stressed that the fairgrounds drives the local economy, with 55 to 60 events per year and monthly flea markets that bring 100 vendors to the venue.

“Don’t forget that money passes through our economy two or three times,” said Swanger. “It is part of the economic development engine for the county.”

Citizen Jonnie Cure remained unconvinced.

“I believe this is nowadays what we call a bailout,” said Cure, who accused the commissioners of once again using fuzzy math to justify their actions.

Ensley emphasized that the county would be paying far less annually with the 40-year loan than it had been in the past.

“I’m looking at that as a savings, whether that’s fuzzy math or not,” said Ensley.

Russell admitted he felt bad asking taxpayers to contribute to the fairgrounds when they’re struggling to make ends meet.

“I hate it, but there’s no other option available for it,” said Russell.

Commissioner Skeeter Curtis reluctantly voted for the measure. He criticized the board for cutting funding in the first place and for not taking care of its properties and obligations.

“In the past, we haven’t done what we should have been doing to keep our facilities and our commitments up,” said Curtis. “As long as we keep doing that, we’re going to keep having situations like this.”

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