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Changes coming to Tri-County Fairgrounds

November 21, 2011

Jim Tatum (inset), CEO of the Tri-County Fairgrounds, gave a press conference Wednesday announcing funding cutbacks from the state, amounting to nearly one-third of the local fairgrounds’ total annual budget. Tatum said despite this, the Fair will go on. Photo by Mike Bodine

California legislators and the governor decided in June to cut all funding to county and state fairs. This includes approximately $200,000 in lost revenue for the Tri-County Fairgrounds that operates on an annual budget of $900,000.
Jim Tatum, fairgrounds director, gave the news to a crowd of stakeholders, elected officials, fairgrounds board members and other interested parties at a press conference on Wednesday. He said he wanted to “dispel any rumors” about the future of fairs in the state, and to assure those in attendance and the community, “The Fair is going to be here for a long time to come.”
He added that he thought it was poor foresight by the state to demean the role local fairgrounds play in local – especially rural – economies.
Tatum said aside from the fairgrounds being an emergency evacuation center location and a base of operations in battles against some local wildfires, he called the fairgrounds “relevant” to the community. The facility is host to thousands of visitors when totals are combined from events like Mule Days, the Fair and the California High School Rodeo Association Finals. This doesn’t include the fairgrounds being used as a swap meet location, livestock auction house, a lot to show off classy and classic cars, and host of weddings, parties and various fundraising social gatherings. Tatum said the grounds are used 300 days a year.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes, Tatum said. He said that attendees to the Fair won’t see much of a change next year, but changes will be obvious by 2013.
He said he couldn’t say what exactly those changes might be, as ideas are still being “kicked around.”
Some ideas already being pursued are to turn the fairgrounds into a not-for-profit entity and the possibility of creating a joint-powers authority. Tatum said he’s hoping to align with Inyo or Mono counties or the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Tatum pointed to the Antelope Valley fairgrounds in Lancaster that entered into a joint-powers authority with that city, resulting in the facility and services there being expanded tremendously.
Tatum said while lack of revenue is a huge factor, he knows he cannot pass all of the cost onto the consumers. He said he does not want to price folks out of attending the Fair or Mule Days, and does not plan on changing the rate structures for Mule Days participants. Rates for RVers and maybe entry fees will go up a “smidge,” he said.
Tatum said he and his staff are looking at cutting $100,000 in expenditures from both the 2012 and 2013 budgets. The Tri-County Fair is lucky in that it generates nearly 80 percent of its operating costs through its own revenue.
Tatum then presented a couple ideas he has been kicking around to save money – some of which even the board members had not heard yet – and still offer fine products like Mule Days and the Fair.
He said he doesn’t have a problem with reducing the Fair by a whole day, probably the poorly attended Monday holiday. Tatum said in the past he and staff were able to make the best out of a marginally profitable day, but with the current economics, “these are the tough decisions that have to be made.”
He said he has had other ideas such as keeping the Fair an entirely local event.
Thursday, opening night, would feature the truck pull that draws a big local crowd as well as local participants and their cheerleaders.
The Friday concert, which rarely brings in a profit due to the cost of the entertainment, according to Tatum, would be replaced with a local Battle of the Bands. Tatum said he envisions multiple stages alive with high energy and locals rooting for their favorites. The winner of the Battle would then be the entertainment at the MGD Stage for Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday’s professional rodeo would be replaced with the local rodeo normally held Monday. The local event draws a big hometown crowd, Tatum said.
Sunday has been and will continue to be Destruction Derby day.
Tatum reiterated that these are simply ideas he’s kicking around and he is more than receptive to any idea to generate more revenue for the fairgrounds.

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