After 22 years, the Fergus Truck Show will be moving, and organizers are not sure where – or even if they can find a new home.
Chief Operating Officer Wayne Billings said at a press conference on Monday afternoon negotiations with two farmers who hold land adjacent to the Fergus community centre have broken down, with neither of them willing to rent their land this year.
He said one wants to repair badly damaged fields, and the other is elderly and simply does not want the bother any longer.
Billings explained without that extra 60 acres of land, the show has outgrown the community centre complex. He added he would love to hear from anyone who has 100 to 150 acres of land that could be used for the show.
He noted the show is now considering three other places – one in Centre Wellington and the other two outside of the township.
Billings added he would like to stay close to town. “If not Fergus, then nearby,” he said.
A move is particularly vexing because the truck show recently built a truck pull viewing area that seats up to 12,000 people, and Billings said no matter where the show goes, it will be difficult to duplicate the setup. He added he has heard from pullers all over about the excellence of that site.
Billings said the truck show began as a one-time event that attracted 60 trucks, but it grew rapidly over the years.
Mardi Billings, who works for the show, said attendance figures indicate that every five years the attendance seems to take off. At the 20th anniversary show, it was 45,000, and two years later it was over 70,000. The show has billed itself for years as the largest truck show in North America.
Wayne Billings said, “Scaling back is not an option.” The show has become a major family entertainment venue, and many plan their holidays around it.
That is why moving the show can be a major problem. Usually, show staff start booking camp sites on Nov. 1, but now they not only have to delay reservations, but also forego cash flow from those deposits.
Changing the dates can also cause problems in booking entertainment. Billings said entertainment agencies are now calling the show, offering top acts. He said he has one top country act for next year – on the fourth weekend of July, the traditional date of the show.
There were also talks for booking a top female star, but until the show finds a home and the dates are resolved, everything is in limbo.
So the show could lose both acts.
Billings said with the problems, the show is two months behind its normal schedule, and that could also affect the number of sponsors it can attract.
When asked if the board of directors has considered cancelling this year’s show, he said, “We haven’t gone that far.”
He did say, in answer to another question, that the show is threatened.
The Fergus Truck Show operates with a budget of $800,000, and over the 22 years it has run, it has returned close to $600,000 to the community. As well, it is a major source of spin-off revenue for restaurants and bed and breakfasts. Billings noted that most of the supplies come from the community throughout the year.
Centre Wellington council has had an interest in the show’s difficulties, and Billings said Recreation Director Andy Goldie and Economic Development Officer Dave Rushton have been trying to help find a new location.
Goldie pointed out that a number of service clubs volunteer at the show, and when the profits are determined, they earn funds according to how many hours of service they provided. He noted that for some groups, it is their only fundraising venue. This year, those groups shared $45,000.
Rushton said, “A large portion [of the show’s budget] stays in the community.”
And, he added, the name recognition is valuable.
“Seventy thousand people know the name. That’s a huge impact as well.”
The show has operated largely without any government funding. Billings said in 2007 the show took advantage of a tourism promotion grant to spread the word about the show to Toronto, London, and the United States.
Billings said, “Are we in the danger zone? Sure we are. We have only so much money in the bank.”
He noted the irony that, “We’re coming off our best show ever.”
He said that planning for that show started with a loss of about $100,000 in sponsorships, but the show overcame that.
“Now, we’ve encountered the biggest problem yet.”
Still, Billings remains optimistic.
“I feel, myself, that there will be a show next year.”