Judge Arthur O. Fisher Park — a county-owned park in Jefferson Twp. — will become the new home of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds for summer 2018 after more than 160 years in Dayton.
Montgomery County will donate the park to the Montgomery County Agricultural Society, which runs the fair and plans to build a year-round, mid-sized event venue on the land. The facilities will be built using proceeds from the pending sale of the historic Dayton property, with the hope of generating rental revenue to buoy the fair’s checkbook.
“This has been a long journey for all of us,” said Tim Terrill, the Ag Society’s vice president. “We’ve looked at a lot of different sites, and we’ve taken a lot of things into consideration.”
Jefferson Twp. leaders hope the fairgrounds will provide their community with a needed boost.
“This is the best news that Jefferson Twp. could have in a long time,” said James McGuire, a Jefferson Twp. trustee. “This is a great opportunity for us to rebuild the community, the citizens worked for two years, having meetings … this is the fruit of all their work.”
Work began immediately Wednesday, officials said, to craft a deal to transfer the county-owned land to the Ag Society. The 150-acre park could host the 2018 fair if groundbreaking occurs by July, said Greg Wallace, the fair’s executive director.
The land already has water and sewer connections, he said. It is far larger than the 38-acre Dayton property.
The board approved the move late Tuesday night in a 15-5 vote, ending a series of disappointments as site after site proved unworkable since December 2013, when the Ag Society first voted to move from its Dayton site to Brookville. The ill-fated project would be the first of several communities unable, for varying reasons, to host the fair.
Location, price mattered
Ag Society members considered location and property costs as they evaluated the potential sites, Wallace said. Board members long sought a location with interstate access, including a Vandalia site near I-75 and a Huber Heights site on I-70. The final site is located at 5661 Dayton-Liberty Road, about a mile due west of the Dayton VA Medical Center on the south side of U.S. 35.
“The best location is in the middle of the county,” Wallace said. “Of course, then you have to look at the price tag associated with that.”
He added, “It’s hard to beat free.”
Ag Society officials would not confirm how much the owners of two Germantown properties sought for their land, though price has been a sticking point in prior negotiations. Records show Huber Heights asked the Ag Society for $1 million on a roughly 70-acre site. The Ag Society, offering $250,000, saw the deal falter.
It’s not yet known, officials said, how much of the current park’s amenities will remain on the site.
The park is already developed with eight baseball diamonds, 12 basketball courts, 10 tennis courts and four volleyball courts, according to the Montgomery County website, and it has a lake for fishing.
Terrence Miller, of Dayton, was playing disc golf on the property Wednesday. He welcomes the fair at the site near Trotwood — which long sought the fair — and was relieved a site had finally been selected.
“Anytime there’s a decision made, it’s good for everybody,” he said.
Fair officials said it was not yet known how the park’s current namesake will be remembered at the site.
A local civil rights icon, Fisher was the first black person to work in the county prosecutor’s office before his elections as the first black judge in the Dayton Municipal, Montgomery County Common Pleas and county juvenile courts. He retired in 1994 and died in 2005 at age 82 while living in Hilton Head, S.C.
The decision to move the fairgrounds to Jefferson Twp. came near the end of a late-night meeting Tuesday, after a 90-minute Ag Society executive session and lengthy public debate over the winning site and two alternative locations in Germantown.
On Monday, Germantown Mayor Steve Boeder and state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, authored a letter offering their “full support” to moving the fairgrounds to Germantown. Other residents had authored letters to the Ag Society in support of the move, with one letter writer pledging $50,000 to the effort.
Germantown’s interest in the site – which was first reported by the Dayton Daily News – took some residents by surprise, said Ryan Snell, the president of the Hickory Pointe Homeowners Association, which opposed moving the fairgrounds to the community in southwest Montgomery County.
Bob McClain, another Germantown resident, said he’s spent his entire life there, but didn’t think the fair would be a good fit for the “quiet, quaint community.”
Sheriff assures safety
Ahead of the vote, Jenny Michael, a 4H adviser and Germantown resident who supported moving the fair there, encouraged Ag Society members to take into consideration a Dayton Daily News report about a body discovered near the park in February.
Sheriff Phil Plummer, whose deputies provide the township’s police services, took issue with the characterization.
“It’s not an unsafe community,” said Plummer, who said he was not advocating for one community over another and was invited by the Ag Society to stay during their executive session meeting. “In fact, crime has been trending down.”
Staff Writers Chris Stewart, Lisa Powell, Lauren Clark and Natalie Jovonovich contributed reporting.