Can this small change bring more big events to Clark County?

10:00 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 News
Dean Blair, director of the Clark County Fair, looks over the inside of one of the horse barns at the Clark County Fairgrounds in November of 2016. Bill Lackey/Staff

One of Clark County’s largest tourism generators is getting a new name to better market itself as a venue for state and national events.

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The Clark County Fairgrounds will now become known as Champions Park sometime next year, Fairgrounds Executive Director Dean Blair said. There’s no timeline for when the name will officially change, he said.

The renamed Champions Park complex will include the lake, the cross country course, the Champions Center and the historic Clark County Fairgrounds, Blair said.

“There’s a certain stigma with that word fairgrounds, a certain expectation,” he said. “We’re so blessed our fairgrounds is not the average county fairgrounds. … The name doesn’t change anything, but the name is everything.”

The name change has been approved by both the Clark County Agricultural Society and the Clark County Commission. It was chosen to honor Springfield’s nickname, the Champion City. Springfield was the birthplace of the Champion reaper, the first combine.

“It’s the origination of Springfield,” Blair said.

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Several other entities have used that nickname, including the Champion City Kings collegiate baseball team and the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau store, Champion City Guide and Supply.

“There’s already that brand,” he said. “We think it’s the right thing to preserve the heritage, the history and even celebrate the history we’re not celebrating at this time.”

The fairgrounds and Champions Center account for half of Clark County’s local event attendees, a majority of which visit from out of town and create significant economic impact, according to the the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

The economic impact of tourism in Clark County was about $395 million in 2016, according to CVB reports.

A group from the Chamber of Greater Springfield, the Convention Facilities Authority, the Clark County Commission, the agricultural society and the Ohio Equine and Agricultural Association, which operates the Champions Center, came together to discuss re-branding the fairgrounds, Blair said.

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The name change doesn’t do anything to change the brand at the annual Clark County Fair or other shows, such as the Antique Extravaganza and the Cars and Parts swap meet and car show, Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt said.

While Clark County has one of the nicest fairgrounds around, the location might not sound like a suitable place to host an event for those who are looking for a conference or shopping venue, she said.

“It provides another tool that the fair can use to market itself as a venue for the other 51 weeks of the year in order to help sustain it financially and help provide an attractive venue for event planners and outside entities to want to book in Clark County,” she said.

The park recently attracted a new diamond, gem, fossil and mineral show in December, Blair said. The event planners initially told him they don’t do shows at fairgrounds, but after seeing the facilities, they decided to come to Springfield. The park will also host the Ohio WineFest in 2018, he said.

“Those are the kind of things that are next level events that typically you can’t conduct at a fairgrounds,” Blair said.

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County and Springfield officials are working hard to develop the area around the fairgrounds, which includes recent developments such as the Love’s Truck Stop and the Prime Ohio II industrial park.

The county is still working to finalize the purchase of the Ohio National Guard Armory site at 4400 Laybourne Road for $125,000 — which could lead to new development near one of the county’s largest tourism generators.

The land could be used to build a new hotel and restaurant near the fairgrounds, commissioners told the News-Sun last year.

The county recently made modernizing the fairgrounds one of its goals as part of its strategic plan. The name change won’t affect future corporate naming rights for the lake or other areas, Blair said.

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“We still hope that will happen someday,” he said.

It’s important the fairgrounds market itself the other 51 weeks of the year to have a successful fair in the future, Blair said.

“Without the proper marketing and without the proper branding, we won’t have the security in decades and centuries to come unless we have to the correct branding,” Blair said.

Bookings are already up for 2018, he said.

“There are very few weekends there’s not something going at the fairgrounds,” Blair said.

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