RE-imagining the Fairgrounds
The Lane County Commissioners hosted a meeting at the Lane County Events Center earlier this month to discuss the future of the Fairgrounds. The pivotal question was whether to move the Fairgrounds to the Golden Gardens site in northwest Eugene and build a completely new one hundred-acre complex–to the tune of $145.5 million plus the cost of the land–or to keep the Fairgrounds where they are and simply make the necessary repairs and renovations–at an estimated cost of $13.5 million.
The meeting began with a slide presentation that detailed these two options and the price tags. Afterward each of the commissioners articulated his view of the situation. The likelihood of moving the Fairgrounds was downplayed–it was just too expensive, but there was concern if a renovated Fairgrounds was a viable long-term answer. As Commissioner Bill Fleenor emphasized, we are looking for a vision for the next one hundred years.
Of the hundred or so people that attended the meeting nearly thirty spoke. Every one offered reasons not to move the Fairgrounds. The Thirteenth Street location has a history and a nostalgic value to Eugene. It sits in the very center of town with a bike path running across the south end of the site and a bus stop right outside the gates. It has one of the best skating rinks in the area. It is one of two locations in Eugene to hold equestrian events. It would make an ideal spot for a year-round indoor farmers market. Fairground events invariably bring customers to businesses in the vicinity. One speaker after another, "staying put" was the strongest message given to the commissioners that evening–but not the most substantive.
Midway through the period for public comment, Eric Myers, a local entrepreneur and member of the Eugene Saturday Market Board of Directors, stood up to the podium and opened the door to the future. In the three minutes of speaking time allowed, Myers laid out a plan for renewing the Fairgrounds as a model of green thinking. What could make more sense than applying the vision of sustainable living to one of Lane County's most important family gathering places? The rising price of petroleum, skyrocketing food costs, the unknown potentials of a changing climate, all of these are going to change the economic landscape of Lane County. At the heart of this will be sustainable management of the forests and the farmland–both intimately connected to the history and use of the Fairgrounds.
Sustainability has been an increasing part of the Eugene dialogue now for several years. The Sustainable Business Initiative completed its study in 2006 and Eugene's first Sustainability Commission was formed last fall. Central to the discussion is the idea that business as usual just won't work in a future where our carbon footprint must be reduced and gasoline tops ten dollars a gallon. Growth for the sake of growth is nonsense. Progress must be measured in more practical ways, and there may be no better place to begin than with a visionary makeover of the Fairgrounds. And that is what Myers proposed.
Starting at the bottom, one of the most important concepts of sustainable thinking is turning waste into resource. At the moment, there is no whole system for recycling at the fairground site. If the Fairgrounds could advance on the kind of disposal service now in place at Eugene's Saturday Market, it would be possible to divert eighty-five percent or more of the waste. This could also include at least a partial solution to the seasonal problem of accumulated horse manure at the Fairgrounds. There are creative ways to compost manure with the other food wastes common to large fair gatherings and generate biogas as an energy source with enriched soil as a by-product, literally turning disposal costs into potential revenues. Add photovoltaic panels, solar water heating, a greenhouse, gray water management systems, community garden plots, a year-round indoor farmers market, and the Fairgrounds could become an educational tool as well as a multi-purpose events center. It could become an attraction in itself as a working demonstration of what might be done in the center of any suburban neighborhood.
We can't be looking at the Fairgrounds as a fixer-upper. We must, instead, view it as a stunning opportunity to turn the Fairgrounds into a model for all Eugene to emulate. Consider it a giant permaculture project. A place to give the vast creative energies of Eugene's eco-minded visionaries a chance to blossom. A chance to take this $13 million maintenance expense and turn the Fairgrounds into the brightest flower in our garden community.
The commissioners asked for a vision for the next hundred years. Judging by their response to Myers' proposal, it is likely they will be giving this idea further thought.