Virginia Farm Bureau becomes full owners of the State Fair

The State Fair is now in the hands of the Virginia Farm Bureau.

Update #4 — March 15, 2013; 11:28 AM

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation announced it has entered an agreement to assume full ownership of the State Fair of Virginia and the 331-acre Meadow Event Park. The Farm Bureau, which had a 50 percent stake in those properties since July, assumes full control from Universal Fairs (see below).

“This is a very proud day for Virginia Farm Bureau,” said Wayne F. Pryor, the Farm Bureau’s president. “Universal Fairs was a great partner for the first year, and the two groups were able to work together to continue uninterrupted operation of the State Fair after it had gone into bankruptcy just months earlier.”

Pryor said the two parties reached the decision amicably.

“We learned a lot and gained tremendous insight into how to operate a fair during 2012,” Pryor said. “Now, the pressure is fully on our shoulders. But we plan to expand and improve this wonderful event beginning this year and well into the future.”

The 2013 fair will run from September 27th to October 6th at Meadow Event Park.

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Update #3 — June, 5, 2012; 9:56 AM

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports today that the new owner of the State Fair of Virginia and the 331-acre Meadow Event Park, Mark Lovell, might be selling his new properties just two weeks after submitting the winning bid for them at auction.

Lovell, who is president of Universal Fairs, a company that owns and operates several fairs across the country, said he had no intention of selling the properties after their purchase, stating that he hoped the State Fair of Virginia would return this fall. However, it appears that the interest of at least one buyer has him reconsidering.

According to an unnamed source close with the ongoing negotiations, the interested party has submitted a formal offer to Lovell. In turn, Lovell apparently has countered with an amount that exceeds $10 million. Lovell, who paid $5.45 million for rights to the fair and Meadowland Event Park, would not comment on the negotiations.  

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Update #2 — May 23, 2012; 11:10 AM

The man who won yesterday’s winning bid to purchase the Virginia State Fair, Mark Lovell of Tennessee-based Universal Fairs, said he intends for the fair to return on September 28th. “We love the fair and I think…no one around here needs to worry about it,” said Lovell, addressing the media yesterday afternoon.

Lovell said he intends to open the 331 acres at the Meadow Event Park for ten days later this fall, running from September 28th – October 7th. “We’re going to put on a fabulous 10-day event,” said Lovell. “We have a lot of experience running fairs. We’re very good at it, and we’d like to make them clean, safe, and family friendly.”

Lovell’s winning bid was $5.35 million, nearly the amount the State Fair of Virginia paid for the Meadow Event Park property in 2003, but will end up paying a 6% commission (just over $320,000) to Motley’s, the local company that organized the auction.

The sale must be approved by a federal bankruptcy court. A hearing is scheduled for later today.

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Update #1 — May 22, 2012; 3:10 PM

Mark Lovell is the new owner of the Virginia State Fair. It’s been reported that Lovell, president of Tennessee-based Universal Fairs, purchased the bankrupt state fair for $5,350,000 Tuesday during an auction.

Universal Fairs website touts that the company “promotes and produces a variety of shows and expos in the USA: Fishing Shows, Boat Shows Fairs & Festivals.”

Andy Jenks of NBC12 said Lovell’s associate and cousin said that the company intends to host a “bigger and better” State Fair of Virginia this September.

The closing date of the sale is July 6th.

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About thirty minutes. Perhaps as few as fifteen. That’s the expected time for Virginia State Fair property to find itself in the hands of new owners. After 156 years of operation, the bankrupt fair will have its property auctioned off later this month.

“It’s a sizable sale,” said Mark Motley, president and CEO of Motley’s Auction & Realty Group, the organization based in Chester, VA that’s in charge of handling the state fair’s foreclosure and auction proceedings. “There’s a lot of complicated moving parts.”

In December 2011, the nonprofit group that operated the state’s annual fair, SFVA Inc., voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A few years earlier, they had chosen Doswell, VA as the site for the new fairgrounds. The group funded the purchase and development with an investment portfolio “secured by certain bonds that were collateral,” said Motley. The stock market downturn in 2008-09 greatly depreciated SFVA, Inc.’s portfolio so that it “liquidated at a lower amount.” The deficit was mammoth. Final tallies put the group $80 million in debt. In March of this year, SFVA, Inc. moved to Chapter 7 liquidation.

Two auction proceedings will sell Virginia State Fair property. That property ranges from the physical (e.g. ticket booths, automobiles) to the intellectual (domains, branding). The first auction will take place on May 22nd at the Meadow Event Park in Caroline County, the site which had housed the state fair since 2009.

Mark Motley said that anyone can attend, but that bidders must submit a $250,000 deposit before the auction begins. Motley said that the auction company has fielded national and even international interest in auctioning the properties. Included in that day’s auction will be the over 331 acres of Meadow Event Park property, the exhibit hall, the equestrian facility, as well as effects like power generators and ticket booths.

Intellectual property that will auctioned off that day include the “SFVA” brand itself, the domain, as well as the group’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.1 Motely said that the larger the amount raised in the auction means a correspondingly lower amount that SFVA, Inc. must ultimately pay back to its creditors. As a result, Motley’s will “try to get as much as we can” for the auctioned property.

On May 24th, Motley’s will hold an online-only auction. Physical property associated with that auction includes construction vehicles, furniture, food service equipment, and over thirty vehicles of various models. Motley’s will also auction off the domain. This may prove an especially valuable commodity as it could be used by any state fair in the country.

Motley’s Auctions was founded in 1967 and currently serves the Mid-Atlantic region. In 2009, the company created Fortis Trustee Foreclosure Services to assist debtors that had been foreclosed upon, because Mark Motley found the state’s foreclosing process “unfair for the debtor.” He said that when banks auction off foreclosed property, third-party buyers purchase about 5%-10% of the properties. The remaining properties are purchased by the banks, which Motley found to be an “extremely inefficient process.”

He said that, when his company handles auctions, they advertise and promote properties to maximize awareness and interest. “It’s helping to expose the property,” said Motley. This typically parlays into a higher value. Motley stated that approximately 90% of their auctioned properties end up in the hands of third-parties, typically at higher amounts than bank-organized auctions. By far, a better option for debtors. “The more they get in the auction,” said Motley, the less debtors have to pay back.

When asked if Motley’s has seen a rise in foreclosures and auctions as a result of the economic downturn, Motley said “we have considerably.” He mentioned that experts anticipate more foreclosures in 2012 compared to last year.



  1. The name and websites for Strawberry Hill Races, Richmond Highland Games & Celtic Festival, and Meadow Highland Games & Celtic Festival will also be auctioned off. 


photo by L. Richard Martin, Jr.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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