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Blue Earth County Fair looks at options

GARDEN CITY — The Blue Earth County Fair is sited at a bend in the Watonwan River on a tree-filled plot only 20 minutes southwest of Mankato.

The locale's beauty has also been its demise, said Kelly Marks, Blue Earth County Fair Board president.

The river bounds the fair on the north, east and south and private homeowners in the village of Garden City border it on the west, leaving the fair landlocked and strangling potential attendance and revenues.

The fair board has tried everything they could think of to boost attendance and interest in the fair, Marks said. They tried different entertainment. They tried to break the world record for the most Mentos and soda fountains.

"We can help, but basically the fairs run separately and a lot of times (success) depends on the support (they) get from (their) county," said Barb Bening, Minnesota Federation of County Fairs president. "We're working on educating our fairs. You have to watch price; you have to watch schedules."

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With all else having failed, the board has turned to outside counsel on how to carry forward. It commissioned Bryan Stading, the executive director and senior business facilitator for the Regional Center for Entrepreneurial Facilitation, to conduct a feasibility study on different scenarios to help the fair survive and thrive.

One of those scenarios involves potentially moving the fair from its landlocked home to a location to be determined that likely would be closer to Mankato and allow the fair to expand if or when needed.

The Blue Earth County Fair is cooperatively owned, so the board knew it had to get shareholders on board if they were going to consider a move. The board brought a measure forward at a meeting with shareholders in early January and shareholders approved a move in theory, with no specific place, or whether the move would actually happen, determined yet.

If the fair does move, Marks envisions a much larger event.

"I like to tell people it's going to be like a mini state fair," Marks said.

Stading is due to report at the end of July. His findings should give the board some clarity on the path forward.

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