The votes are in, the signatures signed and the deed filed. The Port of South Whidbey is now the official owner of the fairgrounds.
The nearly five-month process to transfer the property from Island County to the port wrapped up this week following two public meetings where both entities formally approved the transfer. The filing of the deed on Friday made the deal official, while also providing the final green light needed for a host of planned facility improvements.
“Now the work begins,” said Port Commissioner Ed Halloran, president of the board.
That’s a bit of a misnomer, as the port has spent the past two years functioning as a property manager, putting together a successful ballot proposal to own and fund the property, and finally working with the county on a comprehensive transfer agreement. Halloran said the approved deal was about two and half inches thick.
Now that it is done, however, the board isn’t planning on taking a break. Within the first month, port officials hope to have an advisory board of stakeholders in place that will shepherd fairgrounds improvements and changes — a condition of the property transfer — and secure $515,000 from a loan or with a bond.
“Those are the two things that need to happen right away,” said Angi Mozer, executive director for the port.
The cash will jump start a $1.67 million plan to address immediate needs at the fairgrounds over the next two years. The bond or loan will provide immediate funding, as the $200,000 of dedicated funding per year secured by voters in the ballot request won’t start coming in until later this year.
The remaining $1.15 million is expected to come from unsecured grants.
Mozer also said she was looking forward to the day ahead.
“We’re the brand new owner of a not so shiny fairgrounds, so that’s pretty exciting,” Mozer said.
Port commissioners officially approved the property transfer at a special meeting on Wednesday evening. According to Halloran, no members of the public showed up, and the deal was OK’d in a 2-0 vote; Halloran and Commissioner Curt Gordon voted for the transfer.
Commission Jack Ng was out of the country and therefore not present. In a later interview, Ng said he would have voted to approve the transfer, calling the finalized deal and the scope of work a “win, win.” Port leaders are enthused about the economic development possibilities that they hope will come with a revitalized fairgrounds, and the community gets a slew of long needed improvements.
“I can’t wait to see things moving,” Ng said.
The Island County Commissioners held a similar meeting on Tuesday, where the board unanimously approved the transfer and the conditions.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she began going to the fairgrounds with her grandmother when she was just 7 years old. She’s now carrying on that tradition with her granddaughter.
“I’m not unusual,” Price Johnson said. “The people of Island County have poured heart and soul into that property for generations, and I think the way this transfer is taking place preserves that legacy and supports the generous spirit of our community.”
“I’m very excited about the bright future that’s ahead,” she added.