State fair commission seeks lease with Crew after tough 2020

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People and amusement rides at a fair.
The Ohio State Fair in 2016. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

The Ohio Expositions Commission agreed to a possible 75-year lease that would give the Columbus Crew SC access to about 25 acres of state land for a new practice facility in a Jan. 28 meeting.

This lease comes with a $2 million up front payment in April. That money would be a major help for the commission, after a year of cancellations and lost revenue.

“A $2 million up front payment is not just chicken feed,” said Andrew Doehrel, chair of the commission.

The Ohio Expo Center hosts multiple major events, including the Ohio State Fair, the All-American Quarter Horse Congress and the Ohio Beef Expo. It currently covers 360 acres, has parking for 12,000 vehicles and is also home to the Crew’s Mapfre Stadium. Like many fairgrounds and event centers, the center had to cancel many of its major events in 2020, including the state fair.

Doehrel said the Crew stepped up and recognized the expo center’s needs at this point.

“I’m pleased with what we have accomplished. The financial terms of the lease will help the agency, we will benefit from some of the shared improvements and the Crew will be able to stay here in Columbus with a new world-class practice facility,” said Virgil Strickler, general manager for the expo center and the state fair.

Discussions

In earlier discussions, commission members worried about how the new facility would affect parking for the fair and other events.

“Now, our concern is attendance for anything that we have here … allowing us some time to test parking solutions that we have discussed and so forth,” Strickler said.

A copy of the lease indicated that the Ohio Expositions Commission would have priority for off-premises parking lots for the Ohio State Fair and the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, as long as these events don’t extend beyond the current number of dates they use.

The commission approved the agreement in an 11-1 vote, with Tom Price the only member who voted against it.

Concerns

Price argued that the lease should be for a shorter term and that it did not go far enough to protect the state’s interests. He also expressed concern that members of the commission were told not to discuss the lease amongst themselves when they received a copy Jan. 14.

A spokesperson for the commission said members were asked not to discuss the lease amongst themselves before the meeting because it wanted transparency. Members were able to ask legal counsel questions before the meeting so they could discuss the lease together at a public meeting.

Details

The lease could be for up to 75 years. After the first 40, the team will have the option to renew the lease seven times, for five years at a time.

After the $2 million up front payment, the yearly rent would be $100,000 annually for three years, then $200,000 for years after that, with adjustments for inflation every five years.

The commission’s decision allows Strickler to sign the lease on its behalf. The lease goes next to the Controlling Board for approval.

Strickler also said while the city of Columbus has also expressed interest in a portion of the expo center’s land, negotiations for that project are still ongoing and are separate from the lease agreed on at the meeting.

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