New Island County fairgrounds manager eager to see growth

Melene Thompson was hired by the Port of South Whidbey as the property manager of the Island County Fairgrounds.

Meet Melene Thompson. She’s already well-known to people on South Whidbey, but will likely become even more familiar over the next 12 months.

She’s the fairground’s new property manager, and the woman the Port of South Whidbey recently hired to figure out if running the facility over the long-term is economically feasible. The job means she’ll be spending the next year running the daily affairs of the fairgrounds, such as it is, and connecting with the public and user groups during a series of meetings.

“I’ll be working a lot of weekends,” said Thompson with smile, during a recent interview with The Record.

Thompson’s first day was Saturday, and she comes to the table with a background in radio sales and management, and recently four years as Whidbey Telecom’s business account manager. She’s served on the board of directors for Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, the Langley Chamber of Commerce and the Whidbey Island Animals’ Improvement Foundation, according to her resume.

Summed up, she’s just right for the job, said Angi Mozer, executive director for the port.

“She’s great,” Mozer said. “I think she’s going to be awesome.”

The job is a contract position, rather than a port employee. Hired to accomplish specific objectives, she manages her own time and the contract is only for one year. The position pays $50,000, the funding for which came from county grant funds.

Thompson has two primary objectives: to perform due diligence research that will ascertain whether managing and renovating the fairgrounds for the county is economically sustainable, including identifying just what the public wants to do with the facility, and the actual management and recruitment of tenants.

The job was formerly in the hands of the Island County Fair Association, but financial difficulties in maintaining the county-owned property ultimately led to the group stepping away from the role. It still retains the responsibility of putting on the fair, but management has been passed to the port.

Both jobs, grounds management and fair administration, were formerly led by longtime volunteer and employee Sandey Brandon. According to Mozer, she retired before the port took over in April and did not submit an application for the new management position.

Brandon was recently named “Citizen of the Year” by the Deer Lagoon Grange for her 23 years of continuous service to the fair. In a Grange news release, Brandon was reported as saying her long efforts had nothing to do with a paycheck.

“Work has never been about money for me, but about making a difference and giving my personal best,” Brandon said, according to the news release. “I love using my talents to benefit small businesses, clubs, individuals and organizations by promoting positive images and providing professional marketing materials to showcase their various passions.”

As for Thompson, she said the next few months will be busy. She plans to hold two to three public meetings a month beginning in May, as much of the due diligence work is due in September. She’s also looking at several means of shining a light on the fairgrounds, from bringing in new tenants to putting together seasonal events, such as a Victorian country Christmas.

Dates and times for the pending community meetings are not yet set.