This is a follow-up to the excellent Lessenberry story this week.
In 2009, Michigan's then-Governor determined to shut the State Fairgrounds in Detroit and end Michigan's reign and claim to fame that it annually hosted the Nation's longest-running State Fair. Why? The then-Governor said in the 2009 State of the State address: "we must tighten our belts." So the decision was made: "I will recommend eliminating funding for both state fairs, because while they are a wonderful tradition, the state fairs are not an essential purpose of government." The savings: somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million dollars for the Lower Peninsula fair. All efforts to reverse the decision failed.
One can presume the then-Governor recollected that Detroit Pistons great Joe Dumars was using the site for good purposes: Community Center Ceremony.
This week, Michigan's now-Governor signed two bills into law positioning the Fairgrounds property for re-use. One of the reasons stated was this: "This legislation also removes an excessive fiscal cost from the state ledgers." [see: Snyder signs bills]
What gives? How can the site have been closed in order to save taxpayer $ and now transferred in order to save taxpayer $?
The answer is found in the legislative fiscal agency analysis of the two bills now made law [SFA analysis]: "Revenue from leases and rentals on the property totaled $245,500 in FY 2010-11. State expenses for maintenance of the fairgrounds totaled $1,140,000 in that year, resulting in net expenses for the property fof $894,500." The decision to terminate the annual Fair subsidy did not factor in the costs to close and shutter the site, and did not apparently factor in the existing lease rental income that was being received from all tenants. Somehow, though, even though the site was to be closed down, the Dumars lease continued, and continued access to the site was required along with security. Also, despite the statement in the SoftheS that "I’m grateful that others are stepping forward to continue this tradition" of State Fairs, only the UP Fair had a set of champions who ensured its continuation. If there was a plan for the LP Fair, it never got off the drawing board.
This is a lesson in government decisionmaking on spending. Although the dollars were thought to be 'small', the impact was far greater. Instead of a site with ongoing activity and an annual Fair that served several hundred thousand patrons, at a subsidy of $500,000, and extension of a national record, Michigan ended up with a site that served hardly any public at a cost nearly double. Also, a Department of Natural Resources 'pocket park' that taught urban youth how to fish in a pond the shape of the LP was closed down.