By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
After deciding several weeks ago that the 2022 Cherokee Indian Fair would be held on the grounds of the old Cherokee Elementary School due to safety issues at the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds, tribal officials of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) have had to switch venues again. The bulk of the Fair will now be held at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort Convention Center, known as The Cherokee, with some events such as stickball being held at the Unity Field.
“As I have previously stated, the location change for the Cherokee Indian Fair has been unexpected but necessary and comes with the exciting news that the current Fairgrounds will undergo much needed and long overdue updates and renovations,” Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed told the One Feather. “I am grateful to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort for their willingness to accommodate an annual celebration that is near and dear to our community.”
He added, “The Fair will look different this year, but it is my hope that we all keep perspective, and stay positive, holding onto the knowledge that the renovations being made will ensure that our community and generations to come will have a wonderful venue to visit and enjoy.”
Mike Parker, EBCI Destination Marketing manager, told the One Feather during a recent meeting at The Cherokee Exhibition Hall, “So, we have probably close to three months now, maybe less, before the Fair will be. It’s a viable solution. We don’t have to worry about the weather inside here. I think we can make it work. We’ve got a whole group of people here, I think, that are heading that direction. We have a lot of talented folks and I think everybody wants to make it happen.”
No official plans are made as of this printing as to the layout and configuration of this year’s Fair, but preliminary plans discussed during the meeting include having the exhibits and community booths set up in the 32,000 square foot Exhibition Hall in The Cherokee. A stage would also be set up in that Hall for some events. The carnival is preliminarily set to go in the parking lot adjacent to The Cherokee with another “headliner” stage being set up at the far end of that lot. It was discussed that food booths could be set up along the streetside of the parking lot next to the river.
Denise Ballard, Cherokee Indian Fair Committee, encouraged everyone to remain positive. “People keep throwing us roadblocks, ‘Oh we can’t do it here. We need outside space. We need this, we need that.’ We’ve got to change our way of thinking and accept that if we want a Fair, we can make a great Fair. We have more room than we’ve had. Don’t be a naysayer, figure it out.”
Tammy Jackson, Cherokee Indian Fair Committee, spoke to some of the challenges associated with having the Fair at the casino. “The challenge that I’m facing right now is that I don’t know how much community participation I’ll get from the Christian community because they won’t come here (casino). So, I may have booths that are not set up for the community clubs; they may not enter things because they won’t come to the property. That’s going to be the challenge.”
She went on to say, “I think we can make this work. We don’t have any other choice so we can make it work the best we can.”
The Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds are not safe for this year’s Fair according to a report from Phoenix Engineering and Consulting, Inc. which states there is a five-inch crack in one of the vertical legs of the canopy over the amphitheater at the Fairgrounds.
Travis Sneed, EBCI Project Management director of support services, told the One Feather previously, “What we’re seeing is the first stage of a structural failure. The engineering firm and EBCI Risk Management have determined that it is unsafe to be under it (canopy) from this point on…a high wind event could come through and cause considerable damage or cause it to fail. So, at this point, we don’t want anyone to be underneath it.”
Chris Greene, EBCI Project Management manager, noted, “If this fails, there’s no telling where these cables could go.”
Sneed said that having the Fair at the old elementary school site ended up being too costly. He noted it would have cost the EBCI between $4-5 million for all of the required site work and infrastructure. Parker related that there will be a cost associated with having the Fair at the casino, but that amount is not yet known exactly but will be less than the work required at the elementary school site.