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The bleachers nearly were packed with fans of the big tractors that pulled their loads down the stretch, sending a plume of thick black smoke into the air as they barreled to the finish line Saturday night. Big crowds are good news for the Shelby County A & M Association, commonly known as the fair board, which operates the fairgrounds. The Shelby County Fair accounts for about half of the association’s annual revenue, said Jeff Hagerman, who serves as secretary/treasurer for the board. “We’re on track to do as well or a little bit above last year,” Hagerman said. Even though opening night, Thursday, June 19, was literally a washout – heavy rains kept the crowd down to 150 – the crowd swelled to 3,200 Saturday night, Hagerman said. If attendance stays up for the weekend, this year’s gate could be the second- or third-largest in fair history. The approximately 16,000 who attended the fair in 2007 made that year the largest on record. And gate admissions pay the bills. Admissions, along with a portion of sales from midway rides, account for the bulk of proceeds the board will net from the fair, Hagerman said. Drew Exposition, which runs the carnival, shares proceeds from ride ticket sales with the fair board with the percentage depending upon the ride. The bigger rides that are more expensive to set up and operate return a smaller percentage of sales to the board than the smaller rides. The board does pick up some revenue from booth rentals, but “that’s a very small percentage,” Hagerman said. Last year, the board took in about $91,000 from the gate and carnival. The fair also gets sponsorships; last year those were worth about $17,000. In all, the fair has averaged about $125,000 in revenue to the association during the past several years, Hagerman said. Lower debt This year, Hagerman said, the fair board may actually end up in the black. Most years it breaks even or even loses a little bit, he said. The A & M Association is a non-profit organization run by 20 directors and about 30 associate directors. Randy Tennill is president. The mayor of Shelbyville, the county judge-executive, the tourism director, sheriff and Shelbyville police chief also have seats on the board. Board members volunteer their time to run the fair and maintain the grounds. The board has managed to make significant payments toward the debt it has incurred during the five years following the burning of two barns on the grounds. The Bradley Barn burned the day after the fair in 2004, and a couple of years later, the barns on the west side of the grounds, known as shed row, burned. Insurance paid some of the cost of replacing those two barns, but the board incurred approximately $350,000 in debt to rebuild. Hagerman said the board, helped in part by a grant from the state three years ago, has paid its debt down to about $92,000. Though the fair provides about half of the fair board’s revenue for the year, the association gets the rest of its revenue from the livestock shows, meetings and events held on the grounds for approximately 45 weekends every year. Next weekend, for example, the fair is hosting the Paso Fino regional show, which will bring 300 to 400 horses to the grounds. But Hagerman said the biggest moneymaker, after the fair, will be the fall tractor and truck pull. The board will make approximately $17,000 on that 2-day event, he said. With debt pared down, Hagerman said he hopes the board can get back to work on a short and long-term plan it adopted in 2003. Long-term goals include revitalizing Floral Hall, adding another bathroom and shower facility, improving the front gates and “reskinning” and updating the older barns on the grounds.
“We got off track when the barns burned, and hopefully we can get back to the plans,” Hagerman said.