VIRGINIA

Universal Fairs buys State Fair of VIrgnia

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DOSWELL, Va. (AP) - The owner of a Tennessee-based amusement company placed the winning bid Tuesday for the State Fair of Virginia, buying both the 150-year-old fair and the event site, which includes where Triple Crown winner Secretariat was born.

Mark Lovell, owner of Cordova, Tenn.-based Universal Fairs, successfully bid $5.35 million at an auction for the State Fair of Virginia's intellectual property as well as its real estate. He's also paying an additional $320,000 for the auction house's fees, bringing the total cost to $5.67 million.

Lovell said at a news conference Tuesday that he has already contracted for midway rides and vendors, and plans to stage the fair Sept. 28 through Oct. 7.

He said he's "excited about the opportunity that's been given to us," but added he would have been glad to pay less for the property.

State Fair of Virginia Inc. acquired the Meadow Farm property in 2003 for $5.3 million and moved the annual fair from Richmond, where it had been held since 1854. The nonprofit defaulted on about $80 million in financing from a group of creditors and was forced to liquidate, casting uncertainty on this year's event.

Tuesday's live auction featured Meadow Event Park's real estate, including a 12,900-square-foot manor house, a 76,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 9,700-square-foot pavilion and an extensive equestrian facility. The package also includes the State Fair of Virginia trademark, website and social media accounts. Secretariat's preserved foaling shed and yearling barn also is on the property.

Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973 and died in 1989.

After the site underwent nearly $100 million in construction projects, the fair debuted in Caroline County in September 2009. Attendance hit a record 250,000 last year, but the group was unable to make money after the fair left Richmond.

The organization took on massive debt for the project, even as the economy worsened and the stock-market slump shrank its investment portfolio. It also failed to curb spending, with State Fair president Curry A. Roberts and a handful of officers continuing to draw outsized salaries, according to documents in the bankruptcy case as well as SFVA's own filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

The group filed for bankruptcy protection in December and proposed to buy out the bondholders to settle the debt. The creditors declined, saying the offered amount wasn't near what they were owed. SFVA subsequently liquidated its assets.

Several groups had expressed interest in buying the property and staging this year's fair in September, as regularly scheduled. Lovell was one of nearly a dozen bidders at the auction, which wrapped up in about half an hour.

SFVA Inc. sued Universal Fairs for trademark infringement and unfair competition in 2009, alleging that its affiliates were improperly using "State" in the name of a planned rival event that year at the Richmond International Raceway complex - the longtime home of the fair before it moved to Caroline County. Universal Fairs agreed to stop using "State" and the sides settled the lawsuit. The event wasn't held at the raceway.

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