News

Testimony taken on fairgrounds transfer

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

The city of Enumclaw is perhaps one meeting away from announcing whether it will assume ownership of the King County Fairgrounds, two smaller parks and a couple of rural parcels near the fairgrounds.

A public hearing that began Oct. 9 will be continued Monday night, giving the public another opportunity to weigh in on the matter. The issue will be on the agenda for a third reading, meaning council members can vote to accept the land transfer from the county or reject the idea. Other options at the council's disposal are to offer a proposal different from what's already on the board, or simply delay a decision.

A month ago, the city and county announced plans for the city to take ownership of the fairgrounds, which includes the Pete's Pool fieldhouse and the football field used by both Enumclaw High and the Wolverine's youth program. The arrangement would also give Enumclaw Farmers Park, Sportsmans Park and some grassy fields near the fairgrounds that, in the past, have been used for parking.

The county also agreed to fork over $2 million, which the city could use as part of the transition to ownership.

The city has tied the fairgrounds property to its future economic well being, eyeing the property for the type of development that could bring outsiders - and their money - to the Plateau.

The council has gone on record as tentatively supporting an idea that Enumclaw adopt an equestrian theme. As pitched by a consultant, the fairgrounds would be the crown jewel in such a move, with the grounds transformed into an equestrian center to rival any in the Pacific Northwest.

Before fully committing to the idea, the city is awaiting an economic analysis of the proposal.

When the land transfer was first announced, however, city leaders indicated they see the fairgrounds as the key to any tourism plan - horses or no horses.

Those who showed up to testify at the Oct. 9 public hearing were of the same mind. Fourteen people stepped to the microphone and all encouraged the city to go ahead with the deal. Most were part of the equine community, assuring the city those who attend horse shows are looking for a local venue; others spoke of the city's economic health, the need to provide an outlet for kids with rural hobbies or a desire to protect the King County Fair.

As part of the land transfer, the city would provide 16 days for the county to stage its annual fair, which has experienced a dramatic drop in popularity in recent years.

The county used last week's meeting to re-emphasize its desire to complete the land deal. Attorney Grover Cleveland, representing County Executive Ron Sims, offered a letter supporting both Enumclaw's ownership of the fairgrounds and desire to bring an equestrian facility to the city.

“There are times when a vision is so strong that its wisdom cannot be denied,” Sims wrote. “I have found such wisdom in the vision to bring a major equestrian facility to what is now the King County Fairgrounds.”

If Enumclaw City Council members approve the land transfer, the issue must also be approved by the King County Council. Cleveland reported that move is expected around mid-November, maybe a bit sooner.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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