County Commissioner Claire Hall reiterates commitment to Lincoln County Commons (formerly Fairgrounds)
By Lincoln County Commissioner Claire Hall
When the Lincoln County Commons Master Plan Committee meets again June 14, it will be presented a concept that can meet the most broadly desired needs identified in multiple rounds of public input, and just as importantly, be paid for through existing revenues.
Here are the facts: although the concept is still subject to refinement, it calls for a new exhibit hall of about 15,000 square feet, the same size as the current building; a 25,000 square foot covered pavilion; conversion of the existing thrift store for use by 4H; and keeping the current livestock barn.
How do we pay for it? In addition to the money we already have set aside in the Fair Facilities Fund, we project $550,000 a year in combined revenue from the 2007 and 2016 room tax measures. The majority of that, $425,000, will be allocated for capital costs over the next thirty years. The remaining $125,000 will cover the potential gap between rental income and operations.
What do we get? A new multi-purpose building that can accommodate the county fair, 4H, large meetings, banquets and events, outdoor shows, quilt shows, and yes, a few conventions each year. (We’ve never called the building a ‘Convention Center’ because that’s not its primary purpose. We think “multi-purpose building” is a more accurate and honest description of what we’re planning.)
Opponents of the project have made several claims in recent months which are misleading or incorrect. Let me address some of their key points:
* This will cost local property taxpayers money. False. Every cent the county spends on construction and operations will come from the transient room tax.
* People didn’t vote to support this. False. They voted in both 2007 and 2016 to dedicate room tax revenues for it, by a 60 percent margin each time. The 2016 measure was very specific: “The new tax revenue would be dedicated to increase support for the redevelopment of the fairgrounds (County Commons), and also be available for operations of the facilities at that location.”
* This shouldn’t be built because it will require an ongoing subsidy. Governments don’t build community facilities to be self-supporting or make a profit. They build them to provide educational, recreational and economic opportunities for the public. No Fairgrounds in Oregon operates at a profit. Libraries, recreation centers, swimming pools and arts centers all require subsidies, but no one suggests they be shut down.
* The site would be better used for affordable housing. While it is agreed we need to increase the housing supply, this land is not a suitable site for many reasons, including the poor quality of fill on much of the property and the fact that multiple utility lines crisscross the property. The expense of moving those lines and addressing the fill issues alone would put any housing project out of the reach of affordability.
* There’s still important work ahead to revise this concept and translate it into finished construction plans. I appreciate the patience and persistence of the many, many citizens who have spent more than a decade working on this process. I hope their dedication will be rewarded very soon.