Fall Fest board seeks relief on Civic Center costs

Board president says rising costs threaten fair's future

By PATTI SELLS, News-Telegram Feature Writer

March 4, 2008 - Hopkins County Fall Festival Board members are asking the county for some relief from the fees charged to use the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center and grounds, saying the event is in danger of disappearing without some help.

"If things continue the way they have, eventually we will not be able to have a fair," said Fall Festival President Ina Gore.

Fall Festival Board representatives met with members of Hopkins County Commissioners Court during a special work session Monday morning to plead their case.

Last year's event cost the board more than $9,000 for the use of the Civic Center and its surrounding outside areas, according to Cheyenne Smithers, Fall Fest treasurer.

That doesn't include another $3,000 for insurance coverage or additional costs to provide security, grounds entertainment, dumpsters and portable toilets.

"Our goal is not to make money but to provide good, wholesome, family fun and entertainment," Smithers said. "If we just break even, we feel like we've done our job. The problem is, the past couple of years we have not even broke even."

Board members indicated leasing or purchasing land may be their only hope for a future. Until then, they say they have no choice but to manage "as best they can" with the existing property.

Fall Festival Board members said groups overseeing similar events in many neighboring communities have their own fenced fair grounds and charge entry and parking fees. The Fall Festival Board in Hopkins County does not.

In a letter to commissioners, Fall Festival President Ina Gore argued the lack of a fenced and gated area hampers the committee's efforts to keep the fair growing and maintain the financial base to offer the many free attractions for fairgoers.

"Our income comes solely from exhibitors and tickets to the auditorium shows," she said. "The cost of entertainment is steadily increasing, and many times the income falls far short of the cost incurred in producing a good fair for the public."

Fall Festival board members say their research has found they are in the minority of fairs operating in the state of Texas that pay for the use of county facilities.

"In addition, we do not receive a portion of the hotel/motel tax that we understand many county fairs in Texas are entitled to," Gore stated.

Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap indicated he was concerned that if elected officials allowed the Fall Festival free use of the Civic Center they would have to extend the same offer to others.

But Gore pointed out that the Fall Festival is not like other agencies.

"We have no other agenda except to bring people and revenue to Hopkins County through activity and entertainment," she said. "Everything we do benefits the Civic Center and the county."

"We're just trying to keep this tradition going," added Fall Festival Vice President Susan Neal,

The Hopkins County Fall Festival, along with the World Champion Hopkins County Stew Contest, has been an annual event since 1970 and is the single largest draw in Hopkins County. The Saturday-to-Saturday event attracts thousands from across Texas and neighboring states and has something for everyone. Events and activities include concerts, petting zoos and an antique tractor pull, arts and crafts, household art exhibits, commercial exhibits, 42 tournament, quilt show, golf tournament, Cover Girl contest, youth fishing, pet show, bingo, carnival rides, a parade and a street dance.

A special fixture of the festival is "Starnight," a concert featuring a major country and Western performer at the Civic Center Auditorium.

But the event is an even bigger expense than the use of the facility and the grounds.

"Most performers are priced out of opur market range these days," said Smithers, who explained they try to schedule up-and-coming artist on the verge of making it big.

Past performers have included such artists as Alan Jackson and Clint Black just as they were on the cusp of stardom.

Lined up for this year's Starnight is Keith Anderson, who has one song on the charts making its way up from #44.

"It's always a gamble each year," said Smithers. "He has an album due out in May, and we're just hoping it's a hit."

"And we're hoping for a decent break on the auditorium," Gore added.

Over the years, Fall Festival Board members said, approximately $65,000 has been paid to the county to hold the fair.

"We're not asking for it to be given to us, but we do feel that some of that could be donated back," said Gore, who has been with the Fall Festival since 1980. "We expect to pay a fair price, but we would like to have some relief since this is for the county."

Millsap, who served on the Fall Festival board for one term, said he knows about all the hard work that goes into making the event successful each year.

"We'll need some time to digest this and think about what we can do to help," he said. "We want to help everybody, but we have to keep in mind that every time we flip on a light switch it costs money. We have a budget to work with too, but we'll work with you as best we can.

"We do realize all that the Fall Festival does to help the economy here," he added. "It provides lots of neat things for the community to do. We won't shut the door on the subject."

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