Lincoln County Commissioners did a little dreaming out loud this week as they continued to speculate on what kind of special event center they might be able to build at the current county fairgrounds in Newport – that is – if the numbers add up and if it’s likely to break even or run only at a minor loss.
The whole point of such an event center – dubbed The Lincoln County Commons – would be to accommodate a wide range of events from equestrian and music shows to major regional governmental or trade shows and marketing meetings – all with the aim of pumping up local motel and hotel room nights thereby building up tourism room taxes and general commerce – including restaurants, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Bayfront and other major attractions.
The commissioners heard a starting sticker price of just under eight million dollars. But since the construction of The Commons is at least five to ten years off, that price is likely to rise noticeably.
Former County Public Works Director Jim Buisman said that since the construction of such a center (which has yet to be designed) is a ways out, he contended that the current fairgrounds facilities will not last that long – that the county will have to do around a half million dollars of upgrades just to keep what they’ve got standing, and in working condition. Otherwise, within a year or two, sewer, water, electrical, heating, a roof or two, could fail. He did add, however, that a lot of the upgrade components, like lighting, electrical equipment, modular restrooms and more, would be transferable to the new facility so the “interim” investment would not all be lost.
As to how they will finance such a “commons,” concept consultant Don Mann suggested it would come from multiple sources including funds from Newport Redevelopment, a possible county bond, a possible increase in the county’s room tax – possibly Newport’s as well, and any private party or foundation donations or economic development grants.
County Counsel Wayne Belmont said with a construction start time so far out into the future, it gives the county’s room tax fund more time to grow – which it is growing at a rate of a quarter million dollars a year. It’s currently got $1.5 million in it and in five to ten years, it’ll have a lot more.
At the end of the discussions the commissioners decided to consider raising the county’s room tax by 2% which would accelerate the growth in the room tax fund. Commissioners urged Belmont to develop a ballot measure to put before the voters this May that would raise the rate, outside of all city limits, by 2%.
There seemed to be general agreement that the benefits of building “The Commons” event center would include attracting higher-end business meetings and industry gatherings, as well as convention go’ers, all of which would bolster the local economy and fill up more motel and hotel rooms, along with vacation rentals. Also restaurants, brew pubs, charter fishing, and tourism shopping would all be given a boost.
As for the two percent bump-up it would still be within the same range of surrounding taxing authorities like Newport, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Yachats and Waldport. It would still be less than Warrenton, Tillamoook, Bend and Portland.
Again, they don’t have a final design for The Commons. That’s something they’re still working on, along with a marketing plan. And yes, they envision the continuation of the Lincoln County Fair along with the regular kaleidoscope of 4-H programs, arts, crafts, carnival, typical fair vendors and sellers as well as the new-found interest in celebrating local commercial and charter fishing, marine science, Newport’s burgeoning arts community and gourmet eateries.
So we’ll have to see how the voters feel about approving higher tourism room taxes this May. County officials seemed to agree that if the voters don’t go for it, it could put the entire fairgrounds facility into the history books.