Moving Fairgrounds to Cecil Field a Bad Idea

December 7, 2009 31 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Since 2000, more than $1.1 billion in development has taken place in Downtown Jacksonville. In 2008, the city even went as far as establishing a special committee to help increase the number of events taking place in downtown. Now the City of Jacksonville is prepared to undermine its own efforts to make downtown a vibrant destination by possibly moving the fair and its 500,000 annual visitors to Cecil Field. Here are five reasons why this appears to be a bad idea.

The Problem:
The fair occupies land near Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for two weekends every fall, and in most years it is up and running during at least one Jaguars home game, causing traffic congestion and parking shortages.
City of Jacksonville’s Solution:
Possibly relocate the annual fair, an event drawing 500,000 people to downtown over a 12-day period, to Cecil Field.  This would allow for more game day parking at Jaguar and Florida/Georgia football games.

The city has discussed the possibility of having the fair run the facility, but the details are far from being finalized, said Misty Skipper, spokeswoman for Mayor John Peyton.

The fair has a lease on the downtown property until 2025, and the financial numbers have to be right for such a move, Verlander said.

An engineering firm under city contract for parks work is now studying the costs of various utilities needed to accommodate the fair, Skipper said. The firm is looking at Normandy Boulevard, on or near the Cecil Commerce Center.

Talk of moving the fair heated up in the last six months, particularly after traffic problems when the fair and the 2008 Florida-Georgia college football game were held the same weekend.

One of the highlights in the city’s potential six-year extension with the two schools is the fair not be held the same weekend as the game. The two coincide every four to six years, Skipper said.

The fair occupies land near Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for two weekends every fall, and most years is up and running during at least one Jaguars home game.

Verlander said it’s becoming more clear the city would like the fair to move and the board is willing to be a good corporate citizen — if the deal is right.

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Timeline: Relocation Idea a Recurring Theme
Relocating the fair is not a new idea.  It has been kicked around since the Jaguars came to town in the mid-1990s.

October 26, 1997 - Jaguars, fair on course for collision

"It's a logistics nightmare when the Jaguars play in town during the fair week. But I think it is unfair for the team to have to go on the road for three weeks," he said. "Certainly Tom [Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin] thinks that it creates a hardship for the team. There is a clear problem and we just have to figure out how to solve it. I don't know what the solution is."

Fair General Manager Gary Roegner, however, said he thinks it's up to the Jaguars to come up with solutions. He said the fair , which drew 550,000 customers last year, has had the same schedule since the 1950s.

"We've been here for 42 years," Roegner said. "I think there's certainly a way to work through this situation."

The fair owns 12.5 acres just north of the stadium complex and has a contract with the city to use stadium parking lots and the Jacksonville Coliseum during fair weeks.

Meanwhile, the city also has agreed to provide 7,000 parking spaces for Jaguars' fans within a half-mile radius of the stadium, Public Works Director Sam Mousa said. Many of those spaces are in the same lots used by the fair 's carnival.
- Florida Times Union - 10/26/97

November 1, 1997 - Fair's lease renewed, Jaguars wanted attraction moved

One option has been all but ruled out: Cecil Field. Fair officials say they have invested too much in buildings and other improvements on the sports complex site to consider a move to the soon-to-close naval air station.

They also derive revenue from renting the fairgrounds for trade shows, car sales and other events, making a central location vital, Roegner said.

Team owner Wayne Weaver has suggested the fair move to another part of town, eliminating conflicts like the one this season that forced the Jaguars to play three straight road games.

That's not likely to happen now, and if it does, it will likely cost the city to buy the fair out of its contract.

That contract was due to expire at the end of next year, but fair officials have informed Mayor John Delaney they are exercising an option to extend the deal five more years, to 2003.

"We're happy where we are," said Gary Roegner, fair general manager. "There should be room enough for both of us."
Florida Times Union - 11/11/97

January 23, 1999 – City Consultants want fair relocated

Rusty Tanner, president of the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair, said yesterday the non-profit group has no plans to move from the site it has occupied for four decades.

Tanner said the fair draws 600,000 people over its 12-day run in the fall, comparable to the total attendance at a season of Jacksonville Jaguars football games. In addition, he said "virtually every weekend" the fairgrounds is the site of a community event, ranging from trade shows to business meetings.

"We're real happy at the location and we're real proud of the job we've done cleaning it up," Tanner said. "We bought it up a block at a time when no one else wanted to go out there."
Florida Times Union – 1/23/99

October 14, 2000 - JEDC predicts fair could move to Cecil in 4 to 6 years. Mike Weinstein supports move.

Weinstein said the former Navy base, now called Cecil Commerce Center, has room to provide a better venue.

"Right now, they are making a fairgrounds out of an area that's not suited to it," he said of the property the fair occupies off A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.

While the fair is successful at that site, Weinstein said there have been conflicts with Jaguars and Florida-Georgia football games. "They won't be quick to get up and move, but I think they will ultimately decide it's in their best interests," he said, while stressing that the JEDC will not force the fair to relocate.
Weinstein said he thinks fair officials will change their minds because of the construction of Branan Field-Chaffee Road and its planned extension to Interstate 10, the equestrian center being built at Cecil, the other recreational opportunities that will be available and the homes being built on the Westside.
- Florida Times Union – 10/26/00

April 18, 2003 - Delaney administration and fair agrees to deal that keeps fair downtown through 2025

Mayor John Delaney's office has been working out the details of a new lease agreement that will keep the fair in the downtown area near Alltel Stadium until 2025.

It's a prospect that excites the fair's president and chief executive officer, Gary Roegner.
"We're centrally located and the expressway feeds right into us," Roegner said.
- Florida Times Union - 4/18/03

August 6, 2005 - Peyton administration suggests fair move to Cecil so land can be used for Jaguar game parking.  Fair turns down offer.

Martha Leverock, fair president and chief executive officer, said she doesn't know of a better location than downtown.

"We never say never, but at this point, we don't know of any circumstances that would make use move," Leverock said. "We're quite happy here."

This is the 51st year of the fair. During the rest of the year, the fairgrounds host trade shows and concerts. Leverock said the fairgrounds are booked most weekends.

Property Appraiser records show that the fairgrounds' assessed value is about $9.4 million. Leverock said the fair owns about 15 acres. The fair's lease with the city said it owns about 12.5 acres.
- Florida Times Union - 8/6/05

Here are five reasons why relocating the fair is a bad idea.

1. History
Jacksonville has continued to be a community that places little value on history.  Because of this, there aren't many events in our community that are operating on the same site and date back decades.  The fairgrounds have been located at the current property since 1954.  While the rest of the city was abandoning downtown for the suburbs, the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair has continued to invest in the area with buildings and site improvements on the 12.5 acres they own.
2. Uniqueness
The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair may be the only fair in the State of Florida situated in an urban downtown environment.  Instead of relocating the event, measures should be taken to better utilize and promote the assets that set Jacksonville apart from other communities with similar events.
3. Public Investment
The strategic effort Downtown Jacksonville is making toward becoming a vibrant destination again would be undermined and set back considerably by such a move.  Also, the fairgrounds are a private entity which owns the 12.5 acre parcel and hold a lease with the city to remain downtown until 2025.  A move to Cecil Field would have to be incentivized by taxpayers to make it worthwhile for a private entity to abandon the property and facilities it has owned in the Sports District for over 50 years.  If taxpayer money has to be channeled to solve the logistics problem, it should be invested in a manner that promotes downtown instead of reducing its exposure and importance, all while increasing sprawl.
4. Central Location
Downtown is a more centralized location than Cecil Field, making the fair significantly more accessible to the overall community.  Furthermore, with the city's budget in a struggling mode, partially due to decades of surviving off an unsustainable development pattern, Jacksonville should understand that continued decentralization is a bad idea.  In addition, the fairgrounds benefit from being in downtown.  Because of the centralized location, the fair derives additional revenue from renting the fairgrounds for trade shows and other events throughout the year.  Far removed from the majority of the city's residents and lacking visibility from major highways, a move to Cecil could significantly reduce their profitability.
5. Mass Transit
Not all cities solve their urban parking congestion issues by relocating popular events outside of their downtown or with acres and acres of surface parking.  If parking and transportation logistics is the problem, invest in urban solutions as opposed to continued suburban decentralization that takes life out of the urban core.  

An urban solution could be investing in a fixed-mass transit system that serves the Sports District, while connecting with other areas of town.  JTA has a regional mass transit plan that includes streetcars, commuter rail and bus rapid transit lines that will connect downtown with the rest of the First Coast.  Before removing 500,000 downtown visitors per year, consider backing JTA and the North Florida TPO's plans with local money to accelerate implementation of mass transit to the Sports District and Downtown.  

With viable mass transit in place, park n ride lots all across the region could be used to alleviate congestion in the Sports District when the Florida/Georgia or Jaguars games overlap with the annual fair.  

In addition to resolving the current Sports District logistics problem, it also helps stimulate sustainable economic development all over the city, which benefits the tax rolls and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.

The fair by the numbers

The agricultural fair is ranked as one of Jacksonville 's top 10 annual events, generating income from hotel room rentals, food, soda, ice and beer purchases to sales tax from its arts and crafts dealers.  According to a 1993 study, the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair economic impact on Northeast Florida is about $8.8 million.

3,407     Corn dogs sold per day at last year's fair.

66.3     Tons of trash removed from the fairgrounds during last year's fair .

200     Dollars paid to Tim McGraw for performing at the fair in 1991.

2.5     Million dollars the fair has given to local charities and scholarships during the past 51 years.

3     Couples who have been married at the fair over the years.

493,457     People who attended last year's fair, nearly 11 times the number who attended in 1955.

32     Cell phones lost and unclaimed at last year's fair.

72     Rides scheduled for this year's fair. 48,000 people bought the $15 all-you-can-ride wristbands last year.

Source: Florida Times Union - 11/1/06 - 2005 statistics


Before we boot the fair and it’s annual +500,000 visitors out to the boonies, let’s really take a look at developing solutions that will keep this major event in downtown.

Article by Ennis Davis