By DOUG GRAVES
LEBANON, Ohio — This year’s theme at the Warren County Fair was “Fair Runs Deep.” Some in the county are wondering if the fair, located just a mile north of downtown Lebanon, will ever run again.
“One thing we don’t want to see anytime soon is that old wrecking ball coming onto the fairgrounds premise,” said Warren County Fair Board President Joe Wilson. “There’s been a lot of opposition to keeping the fair here. Some groups even want to tear it down and put up a bunch of soccer fields here.”
A new Redevelopment Committee, under Wilson’s direction, was formed to take suggestions from the public, informing them approximately $6 million will be available to retool the old 97-acre Lebanon Raceway and fairgrounds.
“Right now we want to keep a Standardbred racing facility here because there is no such facility being erected at the new racino,” he said. “Horse owners will be able to ship their horses (six miles) to the racino from here.
“We hope to have the fairgrounds, the horse training facility and an equine center here in the future. Eventually it would be nice to have a big indoor arena to hold horse shows. The existing buildings on the premise now could be used for dog shows and tractor shows.”
Right now the county owns the land and the commissioners lease it to the Warren County Fairgrounds, which subleases to the Lebanon Trotting Club for live and simulcast racing.
“We’re getting a lot of people involved with this,” Wilson said. “Those from the Ohio Carriage Club, the Ohio Horseman’s Council and some private groups are providing input. The equestrian people remind us how much money such facilities on the table now will bring into the county. Some say we should have an Expo Center on the premise. Regardless of which way we turn, the county fair will still be held right here.”
Economic Development Director Martin Russell has received numerous calls from people with suggestions for the land. He reminds folks, though, there are some constraints that need to be factored into the equation.
Such restraints state that any idea should maintain and promote the 4-H heritage existing in the county, should include the continuation of the Warren County Fair and should follow existing zoning codes, to name a few.
“Knowing that there is a fair there, knowing there is a lease that’s in place, that means those offers are going to have to provide answers,” Russell said. “They can’t just say ‘I want X’ and not think about what has to happen long-term.
“I don’t want it to be looked at as an effort in futility, I want it to be looked at as we are trying to reach out to the community and ask them for their opinions.”
The Lebanon Raceway, which in the past has shared the 97-acre parcel with the Warren County Fair, will be relocated eight miles away at the intersection of Interstate 75 and State Route 63 in Monroe. The racino will open next February. The final night of live racing at the Lebanon Raceway oval will be Dec. 8.