Williamstown Fair wants loan for expansion

Wearing yellow shirts, members of the Williamstown Fair board sit in the gallery prior to the South Glengarry council meeting Monday, Aug. 22, 2017. Board President Hamish MacDonell (back row, right) asked council to consider a $100,000 loan to allow the fair to expand. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

LANCASTER – Looking to “secure the future”, the Williamstown Fair board of directors is asking the township to provide a $100,000 loan to allow it to expand.

Board President Hamish MacDonell made a presentation to council Monday night, asking the township for a 10 year loan, which would be repaid with interest.

At 206 consecutive showings, it’s the oldest non-interrupted fair in Canada and sees about 18,000 come through the gates every year.

It’s on a 13 acre site but organizers say the situation is getting cramped and there’s an opportunity to buy 4.8 acres from a private landowner on the east side of the property.

The purchase would increase the land size of the fair by 30 per cent, council heard.

While the board could go to a conventional lender, council heard the board’s rainy day funds would be used as bank collateral, making that money unavailable should the fair need it to cover operating costs during a poor year.

When asked by Coun. Trevor Bougie what the land would be used for, MacDonell said that would still be addressed in the fair board’s strategic plan.

Coun. Lyle Warden was also concerned that the price of the land would go up sharply “30, 40 per cent” if the seller learned the township was financially backing the purchase, for a site that has few options for expansion because the venue is currently land locked.

MacDonell said there is no agreement of purchase and sale on the table. “I don’t think, should the price went up 30, 40 per cent, that we would still be interested in purchasing that land.”

Warden was also concerned that council could be putting itself in a conflict of interest as it would be the approval authority to rezone the property for the fair, while it was financially backing the sale.

Planning GM Joanne Haley acknowledged the conflict and said it would be addressed in the upcoming report.

A staff report will be coming Corporate Services GM Lachlan McDonald at a future council meeting.