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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

Officials have $3M plan to upgrade fairgrounds

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Chris Durham, 6, of Liberty Center, Ohio, rides his John Deere tricycle at the Henry County Fair. Chris Durham, 6, of Liberty Center, Ohio, rides his John Deere tricycle at the Henry County Fair.
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Henry County Fair promoters hope artists' renderings of a 3,000-seat grandstand on display at the fair that opens today will be a reality by next year's fair in Napoleon.

"The fairgrounds are kind of getting to the point where we're getting to a crossroads with them," said Doug Blackwood, president of the Henry County Fair Foundation.

The foundation has a dream of $3 million worth of buildings and renovations, including a 3,500-seat amphitheater, a new merchants' building and renovations to the current merchants' building, new livestock barns, and a new food court.

It does not, however, have much money.

The foundation plans to kick off a fund-raising campaign in the fall that will include naming rights to buildings. By next year's fair, Mr. Blackwood, who is vice president of First Federal Bank in Napoleon, said he hopes to have raised $1 million to $1.5 million and have one new building - perhaps the grandstand - built.

The campaign will be based on asking for cash from people who love the fair or for a mention in their wills. Mr. Blackwood said he expects 40 percent of funds raised to come from gifts of at least $25,000.

To date, the 11-member fair foundation, which is separate from the Henry County Agricultural Society that puts on the fair, has spent more than $10,000 with architects, artists,

and a professional fund-raiser.

The foundation has been assisted by Napoleon City Council's economic development committee and the committee on Monday was the first group to hear the foundation's presentation of its master plan for the fairgrounds.

In addition to more modern buildings for the fair, which typically draws 30,000 people over a week, the foundation hopes new buildings will give the agricultural society rental income throughout the year.

The proposed merchants buildings, which would be heated and air-conditioned, could be rented for reunions and wedding receptions. The amphitheater, which would have folding chairs and bleachers, could be used for craft and car shows.

The livestock barns, which would have removable pens, could be rented out for seasonal equipment storage.

Eventually, Mr. Blackwood said rental income from the new buildings should be more than $100,000 a year.

More than hopes and dreams are new at this year's fair.

The fair added about a dozen campsites, taking its total to about 200, and rented them all.

It organized a larger area for more youngsters who win grand champion and reserve champion trophies to exhibit their livestock in a hall of champions. Previously some champion animals, such as goats and feeder calves, went back to their regular pens after the show instead of being housed with the other top livestock.

And the fair booked singer Dierks Bentley, whose "What Was I Thinkin'" and "My Last Name" are played regularly on country music radio stations across the country. He is to perform Wednesday in a grandstand concert that is free with gate admission.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6102.



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