The following is an editorial by Lincoln County Common Sense, a group that is opposing the construction of what they called a money-losing project at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds/Commons that will cost Lincoln County taxpayers millions of dollars and a never ending stream of red ink.
November 29, 2018
To: County Board of Commissioners and Legal Counsel, Lincoln County Fair Board, members of the Master Plan Vision Committee, and the public
My name is Carla Perry. I’m a resident of Newport and a member of the Master Plan Vision Committee representing the people of Lincoln County. The following is my response to the County’s request for feedback to the “Revised Master Plan for the Lincoln County Commons” dated November 2018.
First, the final paragraph on p.4 states, “The refined draft master plan was presented at the fourth and final MPVC meeting in November 2018 and was adopted by the Fair Board and the Board of County Commissioners in December 2018.” Obviously, this is not true. A document cannot be approved or adopted before the events have taken place… unless the process of holding a public meeting and inviting feedback is merely window dressing.
Second, the Appendices were not attached to the Master Plan sent out to the Vision Committee nor made available to the public. I assumed there were no actual Appendices, but searching the County Fairground’s website, I found the Appendix information buried in a 149-page document. The critical ECONorthwest report was located as Appendix E, starting at page 120. The omission of where the Appendices could be found seems deliberate and reflects the ongoing lack of transparency in the County’s process during Master Plan development.
Regarding lack of transparency: Last spring, after I complained that no public announcements about Vision Committee meetings were showing up in any media, an announcement was published in the News-Times, but it neglected to identify a date, location, or time of the meeting. Further complaints illuminated the fact that although the County was sending out notices to the media, they were not in a format media could use. Suggestions from the News-Times were provided to the County’s Public Information Officer to improve communications, but once again, no announcement of today’s meeting appeared in this week’s News-Times.
Public outreach meetings in Yachats, Lincoln City, and Toledo were held without any public announcements and very few people attended. The consultants state they received extensive stakeholder guidance, but they interviewed only 35 people out of the County’s 49,000 population, and several of those 35 individuals stated outright that they were opposed to the proposal. The dozens of people speaking out in opposition at EACH of the Committee meetings and the dozens more sending in written comments have been ignored.
Deception and misinformation has been the norm. For instance, news that the County Fair property would revert to the original donor was proved wrong, yet continues to be circulated. The claim that two ballot measures to increase Transient Room Tax equates to a yes vote, a “mandate,” to go into millions of dollars of debt on a project all consultants and county personnel admit will lose money forever is absurd, yet continues to be stated loud and often, a technique used to make lies believable. The County states the Transient Room Tax money will go away if not used at the current Fairgrounds site, but that is not true. If the County Fair moves to Toledo or any other site in Lincoln County, the Transient Room Tax money could go with it.
CommonSense-LincolnCounty, an organization registered with the state and of which I am a member, has repeatedly asked the County to provide documentation for the Fair relocation sites it considered, but eliminated as unsuitable. However, in a March 2018 email from Commissioner Hall, she wrote that no systematic site search had been undertaken since 2005 and that she was unaware of any record of any site search documentation prior to that.
Third, the County has already stated at a City Urban Renewal meeting and in follow-up documents that it doesn’t need the $3M in City Urban Renewal funds and that it plans to go ahead with construction of The Commons with or without that money. So why are URA funds still a part of this Master Plan? Those funds are needed in critical areas, such as assisting in the construction of workforce housing, the highest and most critical countywide priority.
Fourth, the Master Plan advises that there should be a slow ramp-up of use of the facility, using a part-time staff. Without a director experienced in event center promotion and operations, that approach guarantees the facility will be dead on arrival. If there’s no excitement, no major push at the beginning, no emphasis on attracting events and local users, it will be all downhill from there.
Fifth, the initial Master Plan promoted a focus on youth as a core value. Young 4-H members have been urged to attend all meetings to plead for the continuation of 4-H, which I want to emphasize, was never in jeopardy. In the current plan, they will get a renovated Floral Building. But what about youth not involved with 4-H? What do they get? Are the green spaces large enough for soccer and softball games? No—those spaces are designated for parking. The reduced size of the proposed steel and concrete Exhibit Hall is too small to hold a real Fair or Seafood and Wine Festival, and the open-air Pavilion too small for horse events. Do the 4-H kids know that? And the suggestion that snow cones could serve as sufficient incentive to get attendees to walk or bike to the Fair is absurd and demeaning.
Sixth is the issue of noise. The City of Newport Municipal Code defines limits on sound. The Master Plan states, “The Covered Pavilion and Open Areas are predicted to exceed the targets for the West and South Residential areas, as well as to the Schools…. To meet the Code, the combination of interior sound treatment, PA system design, and barriers must reduce sound by 17 dBA to meet the night limits. This is very difficult to achieve with open construction.” This is a serious building constraint, but no mention of how it will be mitigated.
Seventh, Appendix E, the ECONorthwest report, contains several misleading statements:
Page E-7: “The Urban Renewal Plan of the City of Newport includes possible funding for the multipurpose building.” and on page E-11: “the City of Newport’s Urban Renewal Plan, developed and adopted in 2015, identifies up to $3 million in improvements possibly for the facility…” No… this was clarified months ago, the possible funding could be for infrastructure only.
Page E-13: The current Fairgrounds property is not “proximate” to the ocean and bayfront, unless you have a car, which is being discouraged because of insufficient parking onsite.
Page E-23: “We think the facility being design [sic] could accommodate around 600 events per year…. We did not conduct a market analysis to get those estimates.” Yet on p. E-3 the report states, “Small local groups cannot afford to pay the full operational costs of their events, much less cover some of the debt service incurred to build the facilities.” So, two or more events will be held every day, year-round, using a part-time staff. Elsewhere in the report it states that the more staff, the higher the revenue LOSS per event.
Page E-24: “No marketing position” is suggested for the first five to 10 years because of the cost of that position. But without marketing, how do we bring in those hundreds of events?
Page E-27-28: Although annual revenue is about $28,000, the report states, “Beyond the first year, events are likely to generate between $80,000 to $190,000….It is reasonable to assume that the revenues will generally continue to increase.” What kind of users are assumed to bring in that kind of profit? There are none identified in the report.
Eighth, the Master Plan itself is riddled with typos, repeated words, and missing words. Page 13, under the heading “Storm Drainage,” states, “The City of Newberg has confirmed…”, which implies this was a cut and paste job.
My ninth point concerns ongoing subsidies to operate the facility. ALL consultants since the very beginning of the Fairgrounds redevelopment process have stressed that at any level of operation, The Commons facility will never pay for itself. It is foolhardy to borrow millions of dollars for something the County has never demonstrated a need for, and has no record of entities expressing interest in bringing events to Newport. Yet the people of Lincoln County will be required to subsidize the project forever to the tune of multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, no matter the level of use.
Tenth, in 1996, the chair of the Board of Commissioners, the Chair of The LC Fair Board, the superintendant of the Lincoln County School District, and the Mayor of Newport reached the unanimous agreement that, “The fairgrounds should be moved to a different location.” They signed Intergovernmental Agreement #B330 P2103, clearly stating their intention. That decision should be upheld. In spite of the County’s denial, there are a number of other options available within the County of where to relocate the Fair and 4-H.
I want to state for the record that the Master Plan Vision Committee has had no real tasks, assignments, or duties. We’ve never been asked to approve minutes from our meetings. It seems we are here as proof that a Vision Committee was created, but we are merely window dressing and a sham committee.
As a member of the Master Plan Vision Committee representing the people of Lincoln County, I state for the record that I, and many others in the County, oppose adoption of the Revised Master Plan for the Lincoln County Commons. Residents are advocating that this matter be placed on a ballot so that they can vote NO. They want the Fairgrounds property used to address actual critical needs, such as a replacement high school or workforce housing, and to use the predicted subsidy of $600,000 per year to change the lives of hundreds of families in this county.
Thank you for your time,
Member, Master Plan Vision Committee representing the people of Lincoln County