County Fairgrounds initiates master planning process, considers transient lodging tax

Benton County Fairgrounds aerial image showing facilities

The Benton County Fairgrounds performed an economic analysis in 2005 and a master planning process in 2006. The economy and our community has changed substantially in the past 12 years, so last month the Fairgrounds kicked off an economic and master planning process with a series of work sessions led by ECONorthwest.

ECONorthwest is one of the most respected economic consulting firms in the Pacific Northwest. They work with a range of public entities and previously performed consulting regarding Fairground operations in Linn, Lincoln, Washington, Tillamook Counties, plus many others in Oregon.

EcoNorthwest consultants spent a day at the Fairgrounds meeting with staff, touring the facilities and grounds, holding focus groups and presenting an initial SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis with the Fair Board. The full analysis of their findings is anticipated in the near future.

Lynne McKee, Fairgrounds Manager, will begin the public engagement process in early fall to look at how they can best serve their niche market and update their mission statement.

“We are hoping by engaging the public in the early stages of our planning that we can develop a vision for the best use of taxpayer dollars through the creation of a ‘public purpose’ statement for the Fairgrounds,” said McKee.

“We want to know what improvements we need to make in the next 10 years to take us into the next twenty to forty years for financial stability and providing a great service to the community.”

The public engagement, economic analysis and master planning process is scheduled for completion by the end of the calendar year. Its outcome should include recommendations for strategic financial decision-making and prioritization of capital projects for the next decade.

Simultaneous to this substantial strategic planning initiative, the Fairgrounds hopes to implement a transient lodging tax (TLT) and improve their financial outlook.

A transient lodging tax applies to lodging facility users with stays less than 30 days. This tax does not directly affect County residents since tourists and visitors primarily stay in hotels and other lodging facilities within the County. Currently the City of Corvallis imposes a 9% TLT and Linn County is implementing a 3% TLT on October 1, 2018.

The Board of Commissioners, not Benton County voters, would approve the proposed tax. The proposed rate is 3% and may generate approximately $500,000 to $600,000 annually. The majority of this funding will be directed to improvements at the Fairgrounds. Initially County staff targeted mid-August for a public meeting but given the master planning engagement efforts, the TLT and master plan public engagement will be coordinated and occur during the fall. The tentatively scheduled first reading of the ordinance will occur in October, with the targeted effective date of January 1, 2019. 

“There is a lot of momentum for these efforts right now. Now that this year’s Fair and Rodeo is complete, I’m excited to focus on our engagement efforts and the future possibilities for the Fairgrounds,” said McKee.


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Lynne McKee, Fairgrounds Manager