BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
September 13, 2005
Commissioners’ Conference Room
Lane County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) Chair Anna Morrison presided with Commissioners Bill Dwyer, Bobby Green, Sr., Peter Sorenson and Faye Stewart present. Fair Board members Tom Hunton, Angel Jones, Michael Schwartz, Steve Ward, and Bob Zagorin were present. Lane County Administrator Bill Van Vactor, County Counsel Teresa Wilson and Recording Secretary C. Daniel Lindstrom were also present.
BCC Chair Anna Morrison stated that the purpose of the meeting was to receive a Report of Fair Board exploration of options for the Fair, fairgrounds, and exhibition facilities. She noted that a memorandum dated July 14 regarding the explorations and a July 22 e-mail response from County Administrator Bill Van Vactor had been received.
Fair Board Chair Tom Hunton introduced members of the Board who were present and described a Fair Board workshop held on July 1 that generated the memorandum. He reviewed the Summary of the Report and noted that it included questions on which the Fair Board requested Board of Commissioners feedback:
- Does the BCC concur with the Fair Board that the County Fair is a core service?
- Does the BCC concur with the Fair Board that exhibition or trade show facilities are an important service provision?
- Does the BCC agree with the Fair Board that sports services are “nice to have” but not necessarily core to the Fair Board’s services?
- Select option(s) for Fair Board to pursue:
o Track #1 – Remain at current location and conduct necessary threshold studies to upgrade the facilities and infrastructure to remain competitive over the next 20-30 years.
o Track #2 – Relocate and conduct necessary threshold studies to determine cost of relocation including site availability, land acquisition and infrastructure and facilities required to have a viable replacement fairgrounds that would be competitive for 30-50 years.
- What is the timeframe for completion of the work outlined in the tracks?
- How will this additional work be funded?
Fair Board Vice Chair Bob Zagorin said he believed the issues raised were legitimate but complex. He requested that the BCC indicate the Fair Board was to provide leadership in their consideration. He said he believed discussion of the tourism and trade show components of the issues raised was essential. He noted that a Lane County Tourism Task Force had not considered relocating the fairgrounds, but had concluded that its current facilities were inadequate. He said he believed participation from urban users of the fairgrounds was important.
Fair Board member Steve Ward said he was the newest member of the Board and believed the July 1 work session had been highly productive. He said members had no pre-conceived conclusions and that the operating budget deficit, though not officially on the agenda, was a constant consideration. He said he believed issues related to capital expenditures and bonded debt retirement needed to be added to the considerations.
Fair Board member Michael Schwartz said his experiences in the retail business led him to analyze the issues involved by their profit and loss components, but realized there were other politically sensitive elements that also needed to be considered. He said he believed retention of space for convention use was important and that there also needed to be provision for “transition space.”
Fair Board member Angel Jones said she believed it was important to consider the issues raised in the report because the Fairgrounds was one of the most valuable of Lane County assets. She said, wherever it was located, the need for subsidy would need to be faced. She noted that its youngest building was 25 years old and that approximately $10 million in capital investment was needed from a risk management perspective. She said it would be important to do thorough analysis and research to inform decisions made.
Commissioner Peter Sorenson said he appreciated the quick follow-up provided to the last Joint BCC/Fair Board Meeting on May 4. He noted that a 1995 Fairgrounds Relocation Study had suggested that a great deal of cash was needed to develop a fairgrounds in a different location. He pointed out that no Lane County property taxes supported the Fair, but that operating deficits were subsidized through the Transient Room Tax. He said the complexities of the Track #2 Option (relocation) made him believe the Fair Board should concentrate on improving its current facilities.
Commissioner Bobby Green said he did not believe the general public was adequately informed of the ongoing operating deficit of the Fair Board that needed to be addressed. He said he believed sports facilities were an important part of the Board’s services. He suggested that additional consideration be given to adding a venue at the fairgrounds for music presentations. He said he believed Track #3 Option identified in the memo of Mr. Van Vactor had merit, especially its suggestions about privatization, and should be considered. He also suggested that more consideration be given to creating a hotel and conference center element at the fairgrounds.
Mr. Zagorin said he believed it was too soon to narrow considerations to the “stay options” because the issues were too complex and significant. He said full public involvement was also essential.
Chair Morrison said full representative public involvement in complex issues like those related to the fairgrounds was difficult to accomplish. She said she believed it was important to provide services for and get support from both urban and rural populations. She said the status quo would result if no action was taken. She asked if there were funds available for an expanded study of the questions raised by the report.
Commissioner Sorenson said he agreed that greater public involvement in discussions about the fairgrounds was needed. He noted that an amusement tax proposal in Salem/Marion County had been defeated in spite of positive results having been predicted by pre-vote polling. He suggested that BCC members concentrate on input suggestions requested by the Fair Board.
Commissioner Dwyer said he favored considering an amusement tax to support the Fairgrounds because it was “relational” – directly related to the use to which it would be put. He said there was no requirement to get voter approval of such a tax. He said he did not believe the Track #1 Option to remain at the current location was the status quo because it involved facility and infrastructure upgrades.
Commissioner Stewart said he supported having the Fair Board provide leadership in helping the BCC make a decision regarding the fairgrounds. He said he had difficulty accepting that subsidy of the fairgrounds was a permanent necessity. He suggested consideration be given to determining how the fairgrounds could better meet the needs of the community, such as enabling its use by the recreation vehicle industry cluster for trade shows. He also suggested that consideration be given to analyzing programs already important to the community, such as the Eugene Saturday Market. He said he would not be prepared to commit to any option without additional study.
Commissioner Green said he believed Track #3 options needed to be developed, such as adding competition and music venues to the fairgrounds. He supported the need for increased public involvement from both urban and rural areas. He suggested that the ramifications of privatization be analyzed and that consideration be given to additional increases in user fees. He suggested that public/private partnerships be studied, especially in the hospitality/convention field.
Fair Board staff Warren Wong said the current Fair Board business philosophy appeared to be to operate its services and facilities with limited risk. He said he believed that up to $50,000 in Transient Room Tax could be re-allocated to fund research regarding options being considered. He said he would need to do additional research to determine what activities could be funded with such a resource.
Chair Morrison said she agreed that additional information was needed. She said she supported expanding the analysis to include options raised by the memo of Mr. Van Vactor. She said a timeline for such study was needed. She suggested that further study should include bringing the current facilities up to an acceptable standard and investigation of establishing public/private partnerships for such enterprises as a hotel.
Mr. Wong said he believed community involvement could be included in a study – users, neighbors, hotels, Convention and Visitors Association of Lane County, and citizen surveys. He said an investigation needed to include what to do with current facilities, with or without the Expo Centers.
Chair Morrison said she believed it should be determined what the public needed or would support with increased involvement. She suggested that video lottery funds might be an appropriate additional resource for the study being discussed. Mr. Van Vactor added that the policy for using video lottery funds for economic development was controlled by the BCC.
Mr. Zagorin said he was not convinced it was possible to build a hotel on the fairgrounds or make the current facility profitable.
Commissioner Stewart suggested that a 1995 study of fairground development options be used as a basis for the current study.
Commissioner Sorenson asked what could be accomplished by the study being considered. Mr. Wong replied that such an analysis could provide broad estimates of costs involved in the options being considered. Commissioner Sorenson replied that he did not believe enough information could be developed to make a decision.
Commissioner Green said he strongly encouraged the community involvement element of a study to include the viewpoint of youth. He suggested that available Transient Room Tax revenue might be used to develop alternative revenue sources. He suggested that suspending currently planned facility upgrades could make additional revenue available.
MOTION: to authorize expenditure of $50,000 of Transient Room Tax for a study to facilitate a decision about Track #1, Track #2, or other combination option, regarding the fairgrounds.
Stewart MOVED, but the motion was not considered for lack of a SECOND.
Commissioner Sorenson said he believed a decision should be made to choose either Track #1 or Track #2 before further study was authorized.
MOTION: to not sell the Lane County Fairgrounds within the next ten years.
Sorenson MOVED, Dwyer SECONDED.
Commissioner Dwyer said he supported the motion because it would allow time to develop a fully informed decision about disposition of the Fairgrounds.
VOTE: 3:2, with Chair Morrison and Commissioner Stewart voting no.
MOTION: to direct the Fair Board and staff to utilize up to $50,000 of its budget to conduct a study to determine community values and needs regarding the Fairgrounds and how to address them.
Commissioner Sorenson asked how long the study would take to complete. Mr. Wong said he would like the Fair Board to discuss the directive at its meeting scheduled for September 27. He said a scoping of the cost and a timetable for the study could likely be returned to the BCC sometime in October.
Commissioner Sorenson said both area residents and fairgrounds users should be included in the study.
Mr. Wong said a thorough analysis of how to best get the information needed would be conducted.
Commissioner Sorenson said he wanted it to be clear that the BCC was not requiring that the Fair Board spend all $50,000 that had been identified.
VOTE: 3:2, with Chair Morrison and Commissioner Stewart voting no.
Commissioner Green stated that, having voted with the majority, he reserved the right to request reconsideration of both motions related to the fairgrounds.
Commissioner Stewart said he was not opposed to saving the fairgrounds, but believed postponing a decision about it for ten years was not wise.
Commissioner Dwyer stated that, having also voted with the majority on both motions, he reserved the right to request their reconsideration. He said he did not believe the ten-year postponement of a decision to sell the fairgrounds was “locked in stone,” but that it was a warning to developers that its immediate sale was not “in the cards.”
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 2:05 p.m.
C. Daniel Lindstrom