Kroger spokeswoman Beth Wilkin confirmed the company has been looking, for years, at several sites to improve the shopping experience for customers, but a final decision hasn’t been made.
One possible location causing uproar: the parking lot at North Street and Ohio 53, across from the Sandusky County Fairgrounds. The Sandusky County Ag Society owns the lot, and it needs no approval from Sandusky County commissioners if it wants to sell the land.
Tiffany Lewis, whose husband started a Facebook page called “Protect Our Fairgrounds,” is wondering if the possible sale would leave fairgoers without a fairgrounds. She fears the move to purchase the parking lot would only be the first step in encroaching on the fairgrounds.
The buildings at the fairgrounds are more than 100 years old, and there are also markers on the property to recognize people who have donated to the fair association, she said.
“The fairgrounds is history. It started in the 1850s,” Lewis said. “Big corporation is looking to come in. It is all about money.”
Kroger officials likely wouldn’t want the fairgrounds or the dusty dirt track at the Fremont Speedway near any new store, Lewis said.
The Fremont Speedway, coming up on its 63rd year of racing, operates at the fairgrounds under three-year contracts, said Rich Farmer, owner of the Fremont Speedway. A constant stipulation in the contract says negotiations on any new agreement should begin before the existing contract ends. The new three-year contract allows Farmer to continue operating through 2017.
“What happens four years from now?” said Farmer, who is concerned not just about the fate of the speedway, but the future of the fairgrounds, too.
If the parking lot is closed, it would force visitors to use an unlighted area that is farther away and is prone to flooding. Everyone wants Kroger to continue investing in Fremont, Farmer said. “We just don’t agree with the location,” he said. The Kroger store is at Potter Village, 1316 Oak Harbor Road.
Next to it is a shuttered Ponderosa Steakhouse and an unused field. Wilkin said nothing has been confirmed, and she does not know if the fairgrounds is on the list of possible new locations. When asked if Kroger could expand at the existing site at Potter Village, she didn’t rule out the possibility. “This is in the early stages,” Wilkin said. “It is like looking for a car in the papers. If we find one we like, then we will go to the dealership.” The company’s leaders are aware of residents’ concerns, she said.
Sandusky County Fair board president Harold Overmyer told the Register that Kroger officials have approached the fair board a few times, starting a few years ago. The conversations were entirely informal, he said, and the fair board is not going to sell the parking lot.
“At this point, it’s over and nothing is going to happen,” Overmyer said, adding that there’s been no further contact with Kroger.
Still, he doesn’t know what could happen in the long-term.
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “I can’t see into the future.”