Other Voices: Nevada County Fairgrounds in transition | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Nevada County Fairgrounds in transition

The Nevada County Fairgrounds is a major hub of our community providing educational and social opportunities through the annual fair, the Draft Horse Classic, music concerts, community celebrations, art shows, seminars as well as providing attractive grounds for walking and biking.

Our fairgrounds is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the state and, indeed, the western U.S. It is our community’s commitment to the fair that makes the Nevada County Fair so outstanding, and a star in the fair industry. The fair creates a significant social impact by connecting the community with nonprofit and charity based organizations, providing a venue to raise awareness and funds to support causes to benefit our community.

The fairgrounds also plays a pivotal role during natural disasters, such as forest fires and floods. It is our goal to preserve this great community asset while maintaining an affordable venue for the enjoyment of the citizens of Nevada County.

The challenging economic climate, combined with a deteriorating infrastructure, dictate the necessity of seeking additional funding sources, while maintaining attractive pricing for the fair, Draft Horse Classic and Country Christmas Faire. As an example, beginning with The Union’s Home & Garden Show, the fairgrounds will need to charge for public parking at all larger outdoor events just as we currently do for the fair itself.

History of Fair Funding

The Nevada County Fairgrounds, whose legal name is the 17th District Agricultural Association, receives a yearly financial allocation from the state Division of Fairs & Expositions, which is a division of the California Department of Food & Agriculture. With an annual budget of $2.2 million, this allocation is less than six percent of the Fair’s total revenue; and the vast majority of the Fair’s revenue must be generated by its general operation.

In the distant past, the funding source for Fairs & Expositions was horse racing license fees. The fair industry’s inherent tie to horse racing developed in 1933 when support from fairs helped assure passage of the referendum approving pari-mutuel wagering on horses.

The stated purpose of the law which created the wagering on horse racing was the “encouragement of agriculture and breeding of horses.” The successful version of racing legislation included a commitment for the continuous funding of the fairs of California with an annual allocation of racing revenues for health, safety and maintenance projects at the fairgrounds.

In recent years, the horse racing industry has been struggling and accordingly the funding to the Fairs & Expositions fund has declined drastically. The eroding of this fund source has been due to a number of factors that include changing trends in bettors’ preferred means of wagering as well as legislation that significantly reduced state license fees on horse racing.

As a result, in 2009, Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of some of America’s most famous racetracks, including Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita, filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 which further seriously reduced the flow of funds to the Division of Fairs & Expositions.

Last year, in anticipation of the Chapter 11 and the negative impact on California fairs funding, a Senate Bill was passed which shifted the primary source for the Fairs & Exposition fund from the horse racing license fees to the State general fund, effective July 1, 2009. As we transition, particularly given the challenges with California’s economy, it is evident that it is prudent for the Fair to develop alternative funding sources and reduce reliance upon the Fairs & Exposition fund.


For many years, commencing in the 1930s, the funding from the horse racing license fees, generated many millions of dollars that were invested in the creation of California’s fairs. Construction on the Nevada County Fairgrounds began as early as 1946, with the larger buildings built between 1951 and 1953 and the grandstand arena in 1955. Today we, and most other California fairs, are faced with many infrastructure repair and upgrading challenges.

While there are some additional funds in the Fairs & Expositions fund that are available through grants and loans, all of the California fairs are vying for those dollars. In recent years the Fair has rebuilt Treat Street, replaced all the gas lines, built the new Whitney Pavilion and upgraded the Northern Mines Building.

Current crucial projects include upgrading the former Senior Center, rebuilding the Pine Tree Stage as well as the arena concession booths and restrooms. In the near future the parking lots and roadways will need to be resurfaced.

Nevada County Fairgrounds Foundation

In 2005, the Nevada County Fairgrounds Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit organization, was created with the goal to financially support and improve the health and beauty of our community’s Fairgrounds, and to fund special projects with particular focus on projects that will support and develop local youth in agriculture.

The foundation encourages donations and sponsors fundraising events to financially support the Nevada County Fairgrounds. It’s been through the tremendous support of the foundation that the fairgrounds were able to build the Whitney Pavilion, which houses the swine show during the fair.

The foundation is actively seeking volunteers as well as financial donations and bequeaths; if you’re interested in participating in the Foundation, please call the Fair office for additional information.

Sandra J. Woods is CEO of the Nevada County Fair; Simi Lyss is president of the Nevada County Fair Board of Directors.

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