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County debates using Gain Share funds for new fairgrounds building

Work session to discuss building set for Nov. 12


The Washington County Board of Commissioners will consider spending an estimated $30 million in Gain Share funds to build a new Veterans Plaza and multi-use building at the Washington County Fairgrounds next week.

The discussion is scheduled to take place at a Nov. 12 work session. The proposal comes in the wake of a unanimous vote Oct. 30 by the Fairgrounds Advisory Committee to proceed with the projects. The committee was formed in 2010 to advise the commission on the future of the fairgrounds.

Both projects are included in the Fairgrounds Revitalization Plan that was approved by the commissioners in 2008. It calls for the plaza to be built along Veterans Drive, which the city of Hillsboro has extended into the fairgrounds. The 90,000-square-foot multi-use building would replace the existing Main Exhibit Hall. That building is aging and not designed for large gatherings with multiple seminars or workshops.

"We are grateful to the Fairgrounds Advisory Committee for its recommendation," said Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck, who also serves on the advisory committee. "A new plaza and multi-use center at the fairgrounds were both central to the fairgrounds revitalization plan that we developed with the public five years ago. Our current approach has the added benefit of not increasing property taxes."

Tom Black, chairman of Citizen Participation Organization No. 9 and a member of the Washington County Fairground Boosters, was one of those who testified at the Oct. 30 advisory committee meeting. Black said he was not opposed to the projects, but he does not believe there are enough public representatives on the committee to speak for Washington County residents.

"The committee mostly represents governments and the business community, not the public," explained Black.

However, Philip Bransford, a spokesman for Washington County, said the plan was developed with extensive public involvement, including 11 public meetings and a scientific survey that found strong support for it.

Annabelle Morgan, a volunteer with Washington County 4-H, also testified. She asked that rents at the new building not be too expensive for the farm-related organizations that use the fairgrounds.

The proposed fees have not yet been set.

The Washington County Visitors Association is a major supporters of the veterans' buidling and plaza, and has pledged $1 million toward the project.

"The new multi-use building could bring conferences and small conventions to Washington County," said Carolyn McCormick, executive director of the visitors association, who is also a committee member. "We have to turn such gatherings away all the time because there's no place in the county to host them now."

County voters overwhelmingly rejected a bond measure to finance the revitalization plan in a 2008 election. County leaders took that to mean voters did not want to raise their property taxes to pay for the plan, said Bransford.

Duyck believes it makes sense to use Gain Share funds — state income tax dollars paid to counties that waive a portion of their property taxes on businesses that create or retain jobs — for projects such as this. The county anticipates receiving approximately $78 million in Gain Share funds over the next five years, and the commissioners have discussed spending the money on a variety of projects, including the fairgrounds plan, reinforcing county buildings to withstand earthquakes and bike and pedestrian improvements.

McCormick believes a multi-use building at the fairgrounds is justified because it will boost the regional economy. The visitors association commissioned a study last year that found no comparable facilities in the county, and predicted a multi-use building at the fairgrounds could attract up to 169 events a year, including conferences, consumer shows, corporate meetings and banquets. According to the report, the events were projected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in parking and rental fees, catering and concession charges, motel and meal payments and related spending.

Plans for the proposed plaza and multi-use building have not yet been finalized.

Next week's work session begins at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 12 at the Charles D. Cameron Public Services Building, 155 N. First Ave. in Hillsboro. The session is open to the public, but citizens will not be allowed to offer testimony for or against the proposal.



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