THERE IS A MASTER PLAN FOR THE LANE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS
The presentation given by the Lane County Fairgrounds Repair Project to the Board of County Commissioners on September 22 regarding the future of the fairgrounds generated two pieces in the Register Guard, a news article by Matt Cooper published September 23 and an editorial on Sunday, October 4. The two pieces posed serious questions about the management of the fairgrounds and the proposal to add a year-round farmers' market and a food storage and distribution facility to the site. Several of those questions were addressed at the presentation on September 22 and deserve further clarification.
The Fairgrounds Repair Project is an all volunteer citizens' group that has applied itself to finding a solution to the financial concerns and uncertain future facing the Lane County Fairgrounds. Its presentation to the County Commissioners was the culmination of eighteen months of work, involving hundreds of hours of research, many discussions with the County Commissioners, meetings with Mayor Piercy, conversations with architectural firms, building contractors, ex-fairground board members, local farmers, food distributors, the Lane County Farmers Market Board, fairgrounds employees, the OSU Extension Service, Fairground Director Rick Reno, and hundreds of people on the street. In other words, this citizens' group, with support from the Commissioners, has tried to do what the RG editorial, quite rightly, said was needed.
The presentation included a 26-page proposal that was given to the Commissioners last spring and updated this fall. This proposal details a conceptual design for the entire fairgrounds and is, in effect, the long-term plan called for by the RG editorial–or at least one such option. The farmers' market and food distribution warehouse are merely two pieces in this larger plan, possible first steps in a multi-year implementation process.
The plan envisioned by the Fairgrounds Repair Project calls for the transformation of an out-of-date and financially stressed county property into a zero waste, zero-net energy sustainable campus with wholesale and retail food sales, anchor businesses, onsite lodging, an agricultural resource center, and a garden park-like atmosphere. While this plan is ambitious and fraught with political hurdles, should it be implemented, the fairgrounds would become a "signature venue" in itself and, as a model of sustainable practices, a one-of-a-kind regional destination site.
It should be noted that the farmers' market and food warehouse are more than incidental amenities. They are vital elements in a larger economic vision for the entire Willamette Valley, based on the projection that food production in the valley will likely increase as the rising cost of petroleum products and other economic stresses transition local farmers into a more diversified approach to agriculture and more local sales.
This means the market and warehouse at the fairgrounds are not intended to diminish the importance of other farmers' markets in the area but to enhance the visibility and sales of local foods and provide much needed infrastructure.
The presentation on the 22nd, however, was less about the master plan than it was offering the county a way to address a costly project, like remaking the fairgrounds, with the least risk and expenditure–namely, generating public and private community partnerships. Representatives from EWEB, the Oregon Solutions' Food Distribution Project, the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, and the University of Oregon attended the presentation and spoke to the benefits of the market and warehouse and how they would like to participate. In the end, the Fairgrounds Repair Project asked the County Commissioners to join in with these partners by pooling staff time and funds to conduct a feasibility study and implementation plan for what could be called the first stage of their master plan: a year-round farmers' market and food storage facility at the fairgrounds site–or if the fairgrounds were not available, somewhere else in the metropolitan area.
The Commissioners found the presentation convincing and, on Commissioner Sorenson's request, voted unanimously to create a task force to scope exactly what the feasibility study and implementation plan would entail and what it would cost. While it is true that the County Commissioners have not accepted the entire plan offered by the Fairgrounds Repair Project, they have agreed in principle to what is essentially the first step toward verifying the feasibility of such a plan.
Despite the real concerns voiced in the Register Guard, this is a much needed opportunity for both public and private sources to invest in the future of our community. This is about rejuvenating a deeply depressed region. This is about increasing food security. This is about finding answers to climate change and peak oil and a new path to the future. More than anything else, this is about a community coming together in difficult times. And it must be acknowledged that the County Commissioners did have the courage and foresight to see the potential of this vision. See Fairgrounds Proposal.