In 1986, the first annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire enchanted the Gainesville community. Today, that magic is still alive.
The fair will be open Jan. 30-31, as well as the following weekend, Feb. 5-7.
Linda Piper, events coordinator for the fair for 22 years, remembers when it was a small, rural one-day event 30 years ago. Over time, it has expanded into a festival with live performances, human and animal-powered rides, vendors and food fit for a king.
In its opening year, the fair only had 20 vendors, and the fifth year it had about 65, Piper said. When the gates open this year, it will have 165 merchants.
“The fair keeps growing bigger and better every year,” Piper said.
The fair was originally hosted on the grounds of the Thomas Center and moved to the Alachua County Fairgrounds in 1990.
With only three stages and 3,000 attendees its opening year, the fair has grown into an event that brings in over 50,000 people, complete with nine stages.
Piper said that 58 percent of the visitors come from outside of the community, which has a strong economic impact on the city of Gainesville.
Russell Etling, cultural affairs manager with the city of Gainesville’s parks, recreations and cultural affairs department, said the fair is a significant generator of tourism and economic development in Alachua County.
“One of our last studies indicated that that the Local Arts Agency had a $85.5 million impact on the county, either direct or indirect,” Etling said.
The Division of Cultural Affairs is the designated Local Arts Agency for Alachua County because it provides cultural tourism planning, grants, and works with local non-profits. One of the main anchors in that agency is the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, Etling said.
Although the fair positively impacts Gainesville’s economy, last year an incident occurred involving a 15-year-old-teen and Frank Krause, a vendor worker from Ohio.
Krause was booked into the Alachua County Jail and charged with sexual assault and sentenced to five years in prison.
The Gainesville Police Department will secure the fairgrounds during show time, and Sloan’s Security Service, a private security business, will work after hours and on the days that the fair is not operating.
Piper said that last year there was one private security officer on staff, but that this year there will be four. Last year’s 24-hour-surveillance will also be retained.
“About $80,000 is spent on city support services during the 2 weeks of the fair being on grounds,” Piper said. That cost includes GPD, private security and on-site fire rescue.
Last year’s incident was the first major situation since Piper took over control of the fair. However, the fair’s future will be without Piper, who plans to retire after this year. With Piper’s departure, the fair will once again be moving to another location.
Lee Pinkoson, an Alachua county commissioner, said that this plan, called the East Plan, has been going on for about a decade and was created by the residents on the eastern boarder of the city. They wanted some change due to a lack of business opportunities, he explained.
“Part of moving the fairgrounds was for the new one to become an economic hub,” Pinkoson said.
Pinkoson said that the relocation will take place in 2018, or possibly earlier, and that the current fairground land may be transformed into a business center.
“The new land, which is only about one mile or so north of the Gainesville Regional Airport, will be where city activities can continue, such as the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire,” Pinkoson said.
Major transformations have happened since 1986 and will continue to happen, but the mystical atmosphere the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire brings will always remain.