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Island County Fairgrounds plan stuck in limbo

Ray Gabelein Jr. raises a handful of questions and concerns about the proposal to redesign several parts of the Island County Fairgrounds at the last South Whidbey public input meeting in late March.  - Ben Watanabe / Record file
Ray Gabelein Jr. raises a handful of questions and concerns about the proposal to redesign several parts of the Island County Fairgrounds at the last South Whidbey public input meeting in late March.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

After a storm of presentations, public meetings and backlash over the $10.12 million overhaul of the Island County Fairgrounds, the proposal remains at a standstill.

Earlier this month, the Island County Economic Development Council met and agreed that its contract with Island County — an agreement that paid a consultant $71,000 from county coffers — to create a long-range strategic plan for the 12-acre Langley property was fulfilled.

The next step is for the council to submit the proposal to the county commissioners, but a date has not yet been decided.

Several factors have put the future of the fairgrounds in limbo. The Whidbey Island Fair Association, which manages the property and produces the annual fair, has asked the county to renegotiate its lease. But before the two parties meet, county officials want to have their director of facilities review the property. The problem was that the county hired its facilities director last month. More recently, Commissioner Kelly Emerson’s sudden resignation has made finding her interim replacement a top priority.

“Given the action that took place on Monday, we now need to schedule interviews for candidates,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson about the May 5 meeting where Emerson announced her resignation. “It could kind of delay being able to get everything on the table.”

Price Johnson is a member of the economic development council and the steering committee in charge of the fairgrounds proposal.

For opponents, who have criticized the plan as being financially unrealistic and for its demolition designs, the proposal’s stalled status is not comforting. Wendy Sundquist, a member of the Friends of the Fair group that formed to formally reject the project, said she wants the county to completely take over the fairgrounds. That would include a formal evaluation of each building’s structural integrity and an inventory of its needs.

“I think the county has to step up to the plate and show some responsibility for this piece of property,” Sundquist said.

“In my mind, you need to look at the structures and think, why do you need to demolish them if they can be used?” she added.

Economic development council member and Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy said the proposal remains unchanged despite several rounds of weighty public input.

“They felt like the consultant gave us what we asked for, or what was asked for, and we received a lot of valuable input in the hearing process,” McCarthy said.

 

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