Committee tasked with overseeing Whidbey Island fairgrounds transfer

As ownership of the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds changed hands to the Port of South Whidbey, those involved in the transfer wanted to ensure stakeholders had their fair say on the fairgrounds’ future.

So when the property transfer was floated to voters, a “yes” vote included the formation of a user committee to oversee the transition, a stipulation of the transfer.

Now future plans for the fairgrounds are finally being set in motion.

“The advisory committee is a platform for stakeholders to discuss maintenance and how to bring year-round activities to the fairgrounds,” Angi Mozer, Port of South Whidbey executive director, said. “Now that the group is formed, I think the juices are just about to get flowing.”

The fairgrounds advisory committee communicates directly with Port of South Whidbey officials to advise the district on how to develop the property. A range of stakeholders from the Whidbey Island Fair to 4-H are represented on the 10-person committee.

The committee meets on the last Friday of every month.

Committee members include Langley City Councilwoman Dominique Emerson, commissioner Helen Price Johnson, fair representative Virginia Keck, Island County 4-H program coordinator Cathi Mann-Fisher, Langley Chamber of Commerce executive director Inge Morascini, Cliff Hagglund from the Whidbey Western Gaming Association and Gary Gabelein from the South Whidbey Historical Society. Fairground tenants are also represented by fitness business owner Adam Fawcett, and two at-large positions are filled by South Whidbey Fire/EMS deputy chief Jon Beck and South Whidbey resident Gwendy Hastings.

Since the committee membership was formalized as recently as July, initial discussions have centered around the current happenings at the fairgrounds as well as the first move by the port: renovating existing facilities. It’s a renovation project sorely sought by longtime user groups such as 4-H and Whidbey Western Gaming Association.

The property transfer was officially finalized in March.

“It’s an old place and it needs a lot of maintenance, which there hasn’t been a lot of money for in recent years,” Fawcett said. “I see the port making a good effort to tend to that.”

As one eye is on updating the existing structure, another is on the fairgrounds’ future. It’s been the port’s goal to bring more events and economic activity to the fairgrounds on a year-round basis, rather than having reduced activity outside of the summertime. That’s also a goal for committee members, such as Fawcett, who says he hopes to see the fairgrounds generate revenue for its own upkeep.

Most of the planning for future year-round use is further down the line, but some initial ideas have already been floated. Morascini, representing the Langley Chamber of Commerce, suggested hosting workshops throughout the year, according to Mozer. There have also been more events throughout 2017 held at the fairgrounds, such as the Cool Bayview Nights car show.

“If anything, the committee is a form to bring brand new ideas for year-round activities there,” Mozer said. “A port rep attends their meetings, and they often attend ours.”

Committee member Mann-Fisher, representing 4-H, admitted part of the group’s function is to protect fairground tradition during the transition. She said every member has eyes toward the future, but keeping the fairground’s character is important for not only the committee, but community members as well.

The committee is finding a way to balance future plans with upholding tradition.

“This is a local landmark,” Mann-Fisher said. “It’s a very special place and we want to retain that feeling of it as being a home for the community.”

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