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Debate over the future of the Lincoln County Commons

Lincoln County Fairgrounds
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Some thoughts on the “New” County Commons from Lincoln County Commissioner Bill Hall:

For well over a decade, the citizens of Lincoln County have been guiding a process that’s leading to a Master Plan for redevelopment of the Lincoln County Commons, home of the Lincoln County Fair. Now, at last, the end of the process is in sight.

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact start date for a discussion that’s been going on for a long time. Jim Buisman, retired county public works director and Fair Board Member, recalls being tasked by the commissioners in the early 1980’s to find another site for the Fairgrounds that was functional, accessible and affordable. That search failed to produce a site that met those criteria.

Discussion about redevelopment or relocation of the fair continued in fits and starts through the 1980s and 1990s. Meanwhile, our Fair Board, like many fair boards around Oregon chose to address a decline in revenues by deferring maintenance and putting available dollars into the fair event. The result was to accelerate a decline in the infrastructure that had already begun.

In 2003-04, there was a year-long public process that reviewed the status of the Fairgrounds and the fair event. In 2007, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners proposed an increase in the county’s Transient Room Tax, and also appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee to develop a roadmap for the future of both the grounds and the event.

We have been following the key recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee ever since—maintain an annual fair event, keep it at the existing site, and make sure the upgraded facilities are adaptable for the widest possible uses.

Two further rounds of public input, in 2010 and 2014, reconfirmed the conclusions of the Blue Ribbon Committee, and provided documentation that with an ongoing revenue subsidy, the facility could be economically viable. A second county-wide vote, in 2016, also dedicated room tax funds for the specific purpose of construction and operations at the newly-christened Lincoln County Commons.

With a single exception, no fairgrounds/events center/convention center in the state is economically viable without an operational subsidy. But like Newport’s Performing Arts Center, which also benefits from an ongoing subsidy from the city, the community has decided that the activities at such a facility will enhance the fabric of the community life as well as providing economic benefits.

Contrary to information being put out by people trying to derail more than a decade of public process, the multi-purpose building at the center of this project is not merely a convention center designed to draw tourists. Do we want to attract conventions and tourists? Yes. But we also want a place for the 4-H activities that involve youth from every corner of our county; sportsmen’s shows, quilt shows, garden shows; musical events; sporting events; and more.

The current master planning process is designed to pull together all the threads of the past eleven years into a concrete vision of what the new and upgraded facilities at the Commons will look like. I hope people will take advantage of this opportunity to weigh in on this important question. But to revisit the question of how the property should be used—which the public has weighed in on numerous times is behind us now.

Anyone who knows anything about my public work knows that I have fought for housing development in many venues for many years. We do need affordable housing. But to displace the existing users of the Lincoln County Commons property as well as the many potential future users would be nothing less than a breach of faith with the public.

Please plan to attend the upcoming public meetings on the future of our Lincoln County Commons. Those dates will be announced soon. Click here.


A response from Wallace Kaufman

Commissioner Bill Hall is understandably frustrated that 4 years after the first consultant’s report on a proposed convention center/exhibition hall for the Fairgrounds, many citizens are critical of the project.

However, his justification of it seems to rest on two arguments. The first is what is known as the “sunk cost fallacy.” We’ve sunk so much time and consulting money we must go ahead and spend more.

The project once proposed to cost $2-$3 million is now estimated at $16 million. If there are no cost overruns.

The project once said to put no burden on taxpayers is now said to need over a half million dollars in subsidies each year.

To justify these costs Commissioner Hall redefines “economic viability.” He wrote, “. . . with an ongoing revenue subsidy, the facility could be economically viable.”

With an ongoing subsidy it would be economically viable to provide homes for all the homeless. With an ongoing subsidy it would be economically feasible to send every foster child in the county to Harvard. With an ongoing subsidy it would be economically viable to bring Cirque du Soleil to Newport every year.

Commissioner Hall has redefined “economically viable” in a way that bodes ill for his constituents.

It’s never to late to reconsider a very expensive, money-losing project. The commissioners should have the courage to do that.

Wallace Kaufman
PO Box 756
Newport, OR 97365 USA


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