LOOKING FOR A MASTER PLAN
There's a big hole in the center of Eugene. Or there's about to be! It's the fifty-five-acre fairgrounds site, formally known as the Lane County Events Center. Since the curtailment of funds from Timber Subsidy in 2009, the site has struggled badly to make ends meet and has so many buildings in immediate need of major repair that the future of the fairgrounds is in jeopardy. As we move into 2011, we will either see the fairgrounds limp along held together by band aids, vacated, sold in a buyer's market, or undergo a fundamental transformation.
In March of 2008, the Lane County Commissioners convened a public meeting at the Events Center in an effort to answer the question: What is the future of the Lane County Fairgrounds? Two options were suggested by the commissioners that night. The first was to sell the property and build a new county fair facility on the outskirts of Eugene. This would cost an estimated $150 million and was and still is an expense far too great for the County to realistically consider. The second option was to spend an estimated $13.5 million for maintenance and repairs and see if operations at the site couldn't sustain until something better could be arranged. Though the money wasn't there for the necessary maintenance, the second option was taken by default. Repairs would be prioritized by absolute need and addressed as band aids allowed.
Two years have passed. The situation is coming to a head. Rick Reno the new fairgrounds manager has made commendable advances in closing the gap between operation costs and revenues, but with $10 million plus in maintenance costs still screaming for attention and no funds to address them, some tough decisions will soon have to be made. The Extension Service office is slated for demolition. Unless there is a large influx of private money the Ice Rink may also soon be history. The sad condition of the Expo Halls adds to the list, and with property values where they are today, even selling the site would be a huge mistake.
So with the same question–What is the future of the fairgrounds?–demanding an answer, Commissioners Rob Handy and Pete Sorenson have called a town hall for July 28th, at 6:30 in Harris Hall. A welcome addition to this discussion will be Mayor Piercy, who has recognized that the fairgrounds–which sits in the center of one of Eugene's oldest and nicest neighborhoods–cannot be ignored by the community at large. If the fairgrounds goes down, it will have a negative impact on all of us, both economically and in quality of life. If we can find a new and positive identity for the site, the entire community serves to gain.
For better or worse, this town hall is sure to provide a glimpse into our community's overall economic duress. The financial situation of the fairgrounds will be described. It's not a pretty story. The Extension Service will readdress their dire funding status and the loss of their offices at the fairgrounds. Eugene skaters and hockey players will appeal for some way to find $2 plus million to fix the Ice Rink. And the West Jefferson neighborhood will use the opportunity to voice objections to the EMX running down 13th Street.
One voice, however, a citizens group called the Lane County Fairgrounds Repair Project, will address the problem with a solution, really a vision for the fairgrounds, the County, and the City for the next fifty years.
While the County currently has no plan as yet, this citizens group has conceived a long-term strategy to transform the site into a completely sustainable, economically dynamic, and culturally vibrant campus. Instead of thirty-five acres of parking lot and fifteen acres of mowed weeds and a cluster of deteriorating buildings, imagine a near zero-waste, zero-net energy community resource center that includes a year-round farmers' market, an incubation site for green businesses and jobs, a welcome mat for the 4-H, a refurbished home for the Extension Service that focuses on both rural and urban agricultural, and a repaired ice rink where heat recovered from the refrigeration system is funneled into other uses–all set in a park-like setting that would be the perfect complement to Tracktown's reputation for hiking, biking, healthy living, and green thinking.
While it's clear that the County will not get a sudden windfall of cash to save the site, regardless of anyone's plan or vision, the fairground's current precarious position must not be consider an impending calamity, but an opportunity that can only be fulfilled if the individual parts of the community–like the Extension Service and the skaters and the 4-H and LCC and the U of O and the City and County and local businesses–come together to create the solution. .
Be there. Harris Hall, 6:30, July 28.