With a photo of Secretariat's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) win hanging on the Caroline County Community Center wall beside a Virginia General Assembly resolution commemorating the 30th anniversary of his Triple Crown, it may have been thought that the decision to relocate the Virginia state fair to where he was foaled, Meadow Farm, would have been a sure thing. Not so.
The Caroline County Board of Supervisors Sept. 13 approved Atlantic Rural Exposition's (ARE) rezoning request to use the property by a 4-1 vote and the special exception permit to operate the fair by a 3-2 vote.
Although the approval officially concludes much of the public process on the project that initially started with an inquiry in 2001, board members credit the open dialogue ARE demonstrated through the process and its commitment to be a "long-term partner" in Caroline County. The process picked up some local momentum with the recognition of the 30th anniversary of Secretariat's Triple Crown in 2003 with an event that featured a reunion of owner Penny Chenery, jockey Ron Turcotte, exercise rider Jim Gaffney, and biographer Bill Nack.
In addition to the county's rezoning regulations, 50 proffers were submitted as part of the rezoning application with an additional 13 conditions attached to the special exception permit. The site will hold the 11-day Virginia State Fair, the Strawberry Hill Races, and the Richmond Highland Games & Celtic Festival and well as 38 other horse shows and 15 trade shows.
While most speakers were in favor of the requests, opponents were concerned with traffic, crime, noise, and light.
A high priority of the project is to maintain the agricultural and equine heritage of the property. As part of the $50-million improvement project, two pedestrian tunnels will be erected under the roads that divide the 377-acre property. The tunnels will lead from the grassy parking lots to the fairgrounds that will include a multi-purpose arena, exhibition building, and two livestock show arenas. The architecture of the structures will match the stables and colors of the Chenery racing stable.
As you enter Caroline County on Rt. 30, Meadow Farm is the first property after crossing the North Anna River. Just prior to crossing the river in Hanover County is Paramount's Kings Dominion theme park. Gov. Mark Warner amended the state budget, allowing Rt. 30 to be improved to four lanes to the entrance of the Virginia State Fair. The project that includes a bridge crossing is estimated to cost $10-$17 million.
"This project is mutually beneficial to the state fair and Caroline County," Curry Roberts, president of the Virginia state fair told the board of supervisors.
Every October, the fair attracts 250,000-300,000 patrons almost evenly distributed during the 11 days in which it is held. Roberts estimated that with constant turnover there are rarely more than 20,000 people on the grounds at one time. Located between Richmond and Fredericksburg, it would be convenient to old and new visitors alike. The newly created Virginia Museum of the Horse may also be located on the property.
"I think there was grave anxiety to appropriately preserve this property and for it to be a showcase for the county to help promote its favorite son, even though he has four legs instead of two," added Roberts after the meeting. "I think it is an appropriate way of preserving and protecting what remains of The Meadow."
Several large lot parcels have been subdivided from The Meadow since the Chenery's ownership of it in the '70s. With the approval, a minimum of 50% of the property will remain as open space, the foaling shed and stables of Secretariat and Riva Ridge will be preserved and have public access, and fencing will be maintained.
A seven-eighths of a mile steeplechase course that will be built on the southwestern portion of the property will hold the Strawberry Hill Races that are currently held in the spring at Colonial Downs and possibly some fall races that would run on the Saturday prior to the opening of the fair that is held in October.