* This story is developing. Check back for updates.
** Updated 3/12, 8:30 a.m.
*** Updated 3/16
Fair boards can plan on having full fairs in Ohio this year, said Gov. Mike DeWine in a March 11 press conference.
“Based upon what we are seeing now, our anticipation is that we will be able to have full county fairs … this year,” DeWine said.
This announcement comes about a month after commodity groups, fair groups and legislators sent letters and suggested rules for 2021 fairs to DeWine’s office, asking him for action so fairs could start planning.
DeWine said guidelines for 2021, which he plans to release today, could change depending on what happens between now and the summer. Right now, the rules include limiting grandstand capacity, social distancing and mask wearing.
“That’s the way it looks today,” he said. “We may be off the health order [by sometime during the fair season]. We don’t know.”
DeWine has said if case numbers drop below 50 per 100,000 people for two weeks, state pandemic health orders would be lifted. The number was at 155 cases per 100,000 people as of March 11.
The health order released March 11 rescinds the order from last summer limiting fairs to junior fairs only, and says fairs and animal exhibitions can open as long as they follow all guidelines and health orders. It adds every fair and animal exhibition will need to have an on-site compliance officer who can be the contact person for the local health department, and ensure compliance with health guidelines.
Capacity for grandstands must be limited to 30% outdoors, and 25% indoors. The order notes the mask order is still currently in effect, and that fairs must have signs at entrances and other locations stating that masks are required.
“If the situation continues to improve, then more restrictions will be lifted, and if the situation deteriorates additional targeted restrictions will need to be made,” the order reads.
Howard Call, executive director for the Ohio Fair Managers Association, said the association is glad to see that full fairs will be allowed to go on this year, though a little disappointed about the current capacity limits.
“We know we can’t run a grandstand at 30%,” Call said. But, he added, the group is hopeful that those restrictions will loosen as more of the state gets vaccinated.
The Ohio Farm Bureau applauded DeWine’s decision to release guidelines in a March 11 statement, saying the guidelines would help fairs plan and help keep attendees safe.
The full order is available at coronavirus.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/covid-19/home.
In the mean time, fair groups have continued to express concerns about the financial states of fairs, after a tough 2020. The Greater Ohio Showmen’s Association, Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Fair Managers Association testified on House Bill 110, the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget bill to the House finance subcommittee March 4.
Drake praised funding for amusement ride inspections for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and encouraged the committee to keep that funding in the budget.
The fair managers association asked the committee to add assistance for fairs to the bill — specifically, a $4.7 million grant program, like the one in the previous budget. The association also asked the committee to consider not requiring a match for grants again this year.
“Our county fairs just don’t have the funds to come up with a match at this time,” the association said.
In 2019, the association said, county fairs brought in about $14 million from rentals unrelated to fairs.
“This funding source dried up in 2020,” it said.
The association also asked for more general revenue funds to support county fairs and help them survive the challenges of the past year.
The farm bureau urged the subcommittee to add $2 million in funding for the Ohio Expositions Commission, to help it move forward with the fair this year, echoing a letter it and other state commodity groups sent to DeWine’s office earlier this year.
Members of the Ohio Expositions Commission testified to the Senate agriculture committee March 2 about the impacts the pandemic has had on the Ohio Expo Center and the state fair, and what the commission is planning for 2021 so far.
In 2020, commissioners said, revenue dropped to about $3 million. That’s down from about $17 million in 2019. The agency used up the $1 million in its state fair reserve account to keep operating with only about 10% of its usual staff — seven employees.
The commission is getting ready for the Ohio Beef Expo, scheduled for March 18-21. As of March 2, the expo center hadn’t hosted an event since March 2020, said Andrew Doehrel, chair of the commission.
The Ohio State Fair is scheduled for July 28 through Aug. 8, but the commission is planning for several possible scenarios, Doehrel said.
If the expo center holds a full fair, but gets a visitor turnout of less than about 75% of typical attendance, it could lose a lot of money. If that happens, the expo center estimates it would need an additional $2 million in funding to survive, said Virgil Strickler, expo center and state fair general manager and a member of the commission.
The lack of staff makes it hard to plan for the fair and other events.
The commissioners are expecting some of its major events, like the All-American Quarter Horse Congress and the Goodguys Rod & Custom Car Show, to help the expo center get back on its feet, but holding those events takes staff and other resources, so they are hoping for additional funding to help cover those upfront costs.
“It’s going to be tough if we don’t have some money to get us back up and running for the fair,” Strickler said.
With limited staff, the commission has gotten some help from the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association with preparing for the beef expo.
“They are getting people to help put stuff up … cause I don’t have enough people, but I have enough people to show them where things are at, get them to help us get stuff ready for them,” Strickler said.
**Updated to include details on the guidelines and comments from the Ohio Farm Bureau.
***Updated to include comments from the Ohio Fair Managers Association.
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