Recently representatives of “Common Sense Lincoln County,” opposed to the nearly $10 million dollar construction of a new Lincoln County Commons/Convention Center – aka Fairgrounds – outlined their concerns that it would be a waste of taxpayers dollars and remain a big money-loser throughout its lifespan. One representative of the group said precious hotel-motel room tax dollars and other revenue sources can be better spent on tourism promotion projects that make money – not lose money. County officials have contended all along that while the “Commons” project will create a lot of red ink, the overall impact of higher numbers of tourists visiting the coast for extended stays would more than make up for the loss associated with the project.
Common Sense challenged the commission to become more transparent about the project. And if they don’t, Common Sense will put a voter referendum on the March ballot.
County Commissioners replied with the following statement:
Common Sense Lincoln County
111 Fred Taylor Rd. Siletz, OR 97380
Dear Ms. Kaczmarek:
This statement is in response to your inquiry at the November 21, 2018 Lincoln County Board of Commissioners meeting, which mirrors a request made to the BOC by Carla Perry this past summer. At that time, Chair Hunt, speaking for the board, said we were committed to completion of the master planning process for the Commons that was then under way and would evaluate the finished plan document when we receive it from the Master Plan Steering Committee and the Fair Board.
The Board of Commissioners remains committed to this course of action. While Common Sense Lincoln County has cited a 1990s agreement between the county, the City of Newport and the Lincoln County School District to consider relocating the Fairgrounds, no alternative sites were identified by any of the parties. No alternative site meets the criteria of affordability, adequate space, adequate infrastructure and proximity to the county’s geographic center that would be key for a new site.
In 2007, Lincoln County voters approved a three percent transient room tax increase, with a portion of that dedicated to a Fair Facilities Fund. That measure was approved by 60 percent of participating voters.
The 2010 Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendation to continue the fair event and to redevelop the current site was the product of extensive stakeholder guidance and public input opportunities. Representatives from the city of Newport (city council), and the school district participated in this process. The 2014 Don Mann study reconfirmed these recommendations.
In 2016, the people of Lincoln County approved Ballot Measure 21-165 by a vote of 9,549 yes votes (60 percent) to 6,310 no votes (40 percent). Ballot Measure 21-165 clearly spelled out its intent: “The additional revenue would be available for future fairgrounds redevelopment and operations.” The measure’s official explanatory statement specifically called out the current fairgrounds (now called “Commons”) location and exhibition hall as part of the redevelopment plan. The only argument submitted for publication in the Voters’ Pamphlet provided further clarification of the intent of this measure to provide for redevelopment and operations at the current site.
While the ballot title also included the clause, ” .. .or similar facilities and operations throughout the County,” that language was included in case extraordinary unforeseen circumstances prevented redevelopment at the current site to proceed, or if at some future date when construction bonds were paid off and there was surplus revenue, that other projects could be considered, the totality of the record makes it abundantly clear of what its intent was, and we believe the voters spoke decisively. To submit this issue to yet another vote would result in costly and unnecessary delay, and would be a breach of faith with the voting public.
Abandoning this process at this point, after significant public input and evaluation and two public votes of support would result in the loss of the Fairgrounds and likely would lead to the permanent cancellation of the fair.
Very Truly Yours,
Lincoln County Board of Commissioners
Meanwhile tonight there is a final meeting of the project consulting group and they’re asking for public opinion and suggestions on the master plan. That public meeting begins in the county commissioner’s chambers in the Courthouse beginning at 5:30pm and runs through 7:30pm. The commissioners are expected to approve the project during one of their December meetings.
Because the County Commons/Convention Center project is so costly, the county has asked the city of Newport to chip in some of their tax increment financing to help cover the costs. A meeting of the Newport Urban Renewal Agency will convene next Monday evening to review the county’s request. The meeting begins at 5pm at Newport City Hall.