A visioning exercise for the future of the Lincoln County Fairgrounds wound its way through four cities over the past couple of days – Waldport on Monday, then Lincoln City, Toledo and finally Newport on Tuesday. Consultants who are helping to figure out what might be done to upgrade the old county fairgrounds east of Newport High School, gathered quite a list of opinions from “Keep it Agriculture” to “Make it a life cultural center.”
County Commissioner Bill Hall kicked off the discussions at each location explaining that the old fairgrounds at Harney and 3rd in Newport are very run down, with very few buildings even in average condition.
In each community there were residents who pleaded for attention to the county’s agricultural roots – that they be celebrated and not forgotten – 4-H especially. Others cited horsemanship and bull riding. Others said the annual county fair exemplified the heart and soul of Lincoln County’s rural nature and that it should be one of the more important events during the year.
Others talked of entertainment which included everything from music to mud races, cultural heritage celebrations to R/V, auto and home shows.
An Econorthwest consultant hinted strongly that continuing to operate the fairgrounds in the way they’ve been operating means its well weathered buildings and others nearing the end of their useful lifespans cannot be sustained. He said they’re wearing out and the fees the county charges fairgrounds users won’t replace what’s even there now. In other words, continued use, mainly by locals, won’t sustain the place. So, he asked, where do you get additional funds. From those from outside the area, he said.
But how do you get out-of-area Oregonians to come to the Lincoln County Fairgrounds? The answer – build a multipurpose building that can be an equestrian facility one weekend and an inviting conference center the next. Such a facility can be configured and transformed in order to do just that, they said. Such a multipurpose facility could attract many special events and conferences every year that could earn the fairgrounds up to a quarter million dollars a year, or maybe more. If the annual Seafood and Wine Festival moved to the fairgrounds, more money would flow, obviously. So income becomes a moving target.
So, how should the community look at such a proposition. The consultants said that by attracting more visitors to Lincoln County for special events and conferences, it would help fill up our hotels, motels, restaurants and many other tourist attractions. It could add quite a bit to the area’s room tax collections, some of which could be funneled to the fairgrounds to help defray operating costs and maintenance requirements.
But would that mean the fairgrounds would become a money-maker? Not really, they say. The benefits remain embedded in what attracted the visitors here in the first place – the fairgrounds acting as a catalyst for other economic activity.
Other speculative scenarios were put forth during the discussions while the consultants hurriedly took notes. That plus more research and analysis will be incorporated into their final report to the county commissioners sometime in April. Once that’s delivered the commissioners will have to give a thumbs up or down to the results. If it’s thumbs up, the next step would be to determine how to pay for such a project which might come with a seven million dollar price tag. Beyond that they’d have to figure out how to fund not only operating expenses but also ongoing maintenance and capital replacement.
Again, it comes to a head in April.
It may be getting later, but it’s still early.