VFBF grieves loss of State Fair of Va. to bankruptcy
RICHMOND, Va. — The State Fair of Virginia may be history.
SFVA Inc., the nonprofit organization that produces the fair, converted its Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in Richmond District Court on March 7.
As a result, SFVA will no longer produce the fair, the Strawberry Hill Races and the Meadow Highland Games & Celtic Festival, and privately scheduled events at The Meadow Event Park will not take place.
The bankruptcy was immediately lamented by the Virginia Farm Bureau.
“We hope there is a way to salvage a state fair, as it provides a showcase for the state’s largest industry, agriculture,” said Farm Bureau President Wayne F. Pryor.
Pryor said the fair also has served to highlight the achievements of Virginia farm families.
Fairgoer surveys in recent years found that 84 percent of attendees experienced animal agriculture at the event, and 72 percent toured general agriculture exhibits.
“Farm Bureau has been a key partner in those educational efforts over the years. The state fair’s unique combination of hands-on exhibits, animals and programs, nostalgia and family-friendly entertainment made it a perfect teaching tool for future generations to learn about farming.”
Over the years, Pryor said, “we have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with SFVA, especially in the past three years after purchasing the naming rights to Farm Bureau Center,” the Meadow Event Park’s largest exhibition hall.
Many events were held at Farm Bureau Center, including Farm Bureau’s own “Save Our Food” winter and summer festivals, later renamed the Virginia Food & Wine Festival.
The SFVA had tried desperately to avoid bankruptcy.
As a proposed resolution to emerge from the Chapter 11 process, SFVA offered to buy the 360-acre Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Va., from the lender group of secured creditors made up of lead lender Arbor One, 13 Farm Credits agencies and the USDA.
On March 5, the lender group rejected the offer and refused requests to produce a counter-offer. Because of the secured creditors’ decision not to accept the offer, SFVA Inc. was forced into bankruptcy.
“As chairman of SFVA, I am deeply saddened and disappointed by the lenders’ decision,” said G. William Beale, SFVA Board of Directors chairman and CEO of Union First Market Bank. “We worked diligently with multiple parties to present the secured creditors with a reasonable offer to purchase The Meadow, and thus allow the 156-year-old tradition of the State Fair of Virginia to continue. Unfortunately, that offer was rejected. Apparently, the secured creditors have other unknown plans for the property.”
The State Fair’s scholarship program and its funds, of which there has been much concern since the filing for the Chapter 11 process, apparently can avoid liquidation.
Since 1989, the State Fair of Virginia Scholarship Program has awarded 2,439 scholarships and has dedicated over $1.8 million to youth education.
It is SFVA’s “understanding”, according to a press release from the fair, that these funds, under the guidance of a bankruptcy court-appointed trustee, will be sent to a Virginia Tech foundation, for administration and distribution.
SFVA’s scholarship funds were managed separately from the investment portfolio used as collateral to secure the loan to develop The Meadow Event Park, the SFVA said.
“While the outcome of this very difficult situation is extremely disappointing, I am heartened by the support we have received from thousands of well-wishers, Caroline and Hanover County officials, the dedication of our staff, and the partners who have stood by SFVA. We worked hard to create a positive outcome in spite of trying economic times and a uniquely complex situation,” said Curry Roberts, president of SFVA Inc.
The lender group opposed providing severance packages to the remaining 17 SFVA staff members, and as of late last week, all SFVA staff have been removed from payroll and benefit plans.
SFVA Inc. had requested the creditors release the rights to the State Fair of Virginia, Meadow Highland Games & Celtic Festival and Strawberry Hill Races.
The fate of these events and the property will be determined by the Chapter 7 process and ultimately up to the court-appointed trustee.