Day At The Track

Racing eyed for 2018 Rochester Fair

06:59 AM 08 Dec 2017 NZDT
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The Roundtable Meeting
The Roundtable Meeting

ROCHESTER — After a decade without it, some form of harness racing may be coming back to the Rochester Fair in the near future.

Newly hired Rochester Events Manager Vicky Poland announced Thursday morning during a special business roundtable meeting that the Rochester Fair’s leadership is exploring the possibility of adding amateur harness demonstrations into the mix as they work to retool the struggling fair into a small, more traditional community event.

“Certainly, it will be nothing like it was in the past,” said Poland, referring to the old 10-day fairs that featured horse racing attendees could bet on each day. “This will be more a chance for people to come into that area and watch that kind of event.”

The Rochester Agricultural and Mechanical Association, the nonprofit group of stockholders that owns the fair and fairgrounds, canceled the 2017 Rochester Fair due to declining revenue and debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This year’s event would have been the 142nd Rochester Fair.

In recent months, RAMA has made a number of changes that have allowed it to be confident in announcing that the Rochester Fair will return as a smaller, four-day agricultural fair from Sept. 13-16, 2018.

Those strides include a reorganization of its board of directors, the hiring of Poland to bring additional events and revenue to the Lafayette Street fairgrounds, and a restructuring of the property’s $383,944 mortgage, which is held by Holy Rosary Credit Union.

Numerous RAMA stockholders and longtime fair patrons have expressed feelings this year that the spirit of the old Rochester Fair changed when harness horse racing ceased in 2008.

Fair officials have said they ended the once-popular program because it had been losing money for a number of years, in the process preventing RAMA from making key infrastructure repairs and improvements that will now be necessary to turn the fairgrounds into a more viable, year-round events venue.

Should harness horse demonstrations occur at the 2018 fair, Poland said they would be held in the grandstand area. During recent Rochester Fairs, that space had been used primarily for a demolition derby. Poland said RAMA is attempting to hold “some kind of car derby” on one day of the 2018 fair, and is also exploring the possibility of having snowmobile grass drag racing.

Thursday’s business roundtable was a joint meeting of the Rochester Economic Development Commission and the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce’s Business Advisory Board. Poland, a veteran of the local fair and event management circuit, was the featured and only speaker.

In addition to disclosing details about horse events for the first time, Poland also outlined a number of events that are in the works for the fairgrounds over the next year.

Those events include a cross-country snowmobile race, the return of the World’s Largest Yard Sale, car rallies in both April and October, a car swap in May, and a number of winter events, such as a winter carnival, sledding or sleigh rides to take advantage of the fact that Rochester stores its plowed snow on the fairgrounds property.

Poland also reiterated the emphasis that will be placed on securing local vendors for the 2018 Rochester Fair and giving community groups the opportunity to be front and center in the festivities.

She also announced that RAMA recently contracted with Cushing Amusements, of Wilmington, Massachusetts, to operate 20 or so rides in the fair’s carnival area. Previously, Fiesta Shows provided the carnival rides.

Poland has said rides at the 2018 fair will be located near the back of the property and, unlike past years, won’t be the immediate focus as attendees walk through the main gate.

Several of the 15 or so individuals in attendance at Thursday’s meeting said they came away impressed by RAMA’s new approach, mindset and vision for what the fair and fairgrounds could be in the coming months and years.

One man described Poland’s remarks as “refreshing.” City Councilor Sandra Keans, a newly appointed interim member of RAMA’s board, said she thinks, based on Poland’s comments, that the Rochester Fair “might actually come back and be a successful event in the community.

By Kyle Stucker

Reprinted with permission of site

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