City hands off Expo operation

Big changes have been in the works for management of the Enumclaw Expo Center and, as of July 1, everything became official.

The city has happily washed its hands of day-to-day Expo Center dealings, passing the operation to the nonprofit Enumclaw Expo and Events Association. The formal step, which was negotiated during the course of several months, was unanimously ratified June 22 by members of the Enumclaw City Council.

The 72-acre site sitting on the city’s eastern edge has a long history that became more problematic in recent years. The venue was owned by King County, but the deed changed hands in 2007 when the entire parcel – including land, buildings and associated RV park – was given to the city of Enumclaw. The county budget in the early 2000s showed the fairgrounds, as well as the King County Fair, had dramatically slipped on the priority list.

When the county passed ownership to the city, the transaction came with a one-time, million-dollar gift that was to be sued for operation of the grounds.

The city learned it’s not easy for a government entity to handle such a task. The Expo Center operation dipped into the red every year and the amount of cash on hand dwindled accordingly. The King County funds disappeared entirely in 2014, meaning the city had to reach into its general fund to subsidize the operation.

Also in 2014, the city created an Expo Center Advisory Committee, charging the volunteer group with devising a plan to salvage the operation. The recommendation was to turn things over to a private operation; a call for bids was issued and the local Expo and Events Association was given the nod.

The EEEA, under the leadership of a board of directors and site manager Scott Gray, has run the show since January.

In formalizing the arrangement between the city and the EEEA, there were some key contractual points agreed upon. For example:

• the contract is for five years, but a five-year extension can be tacked on every 12 months by mutual agreement.

• the EEEA is required to put on the King County Fair each year and, even more, to make the fair a priority in its business model.

• while the fair gets top billing, cannabis does not. The EEEA is contractually prohibited from allowing any marijuana-themed events.

• improvements will be coming to restrooms in both the exhibit and activity hall.

From a staffing perspective, Gray and all other Expo Center employees, both full- and part-time, ended their city employment June 30. As of July 1, all are employees of the nonprofit organization.

City Administrator Chris Searcy was pleased to be taking the contract to council, praising the work done during the past six months by the EEEA.

“No one knows exactly how successful the facility is going to be, but with the start they’re off to we’re feeling quite good,” Searcy told the council.

He added that the stipulation to make the fair a priority clearly is not something the city has to worry about.

“Based on the work I’ve seen going on out there so far this year, it’s already a priority,” he said.

Councilman Morgan Irwin was equally appreciative. An Enumclaw native who showed livestock at the county fair as a youngster, he has witnessed the fair’s ups and downs.

Irwin thanked the EEEA for “breathing now life into what I belive can be one of the best assets not just in Enumclaw but for southeast King County.”

Mayor Liz Reynolds noted that private organizations are not bound by many of the restrictions placed upon governmental entities and expressed her excitement at making the contract official.

“There is so much energy behind the Expo Center right now,” Reynolds said.

The Enumclaw Expo Center will soon be playing host to the following events.

• Sonofabear Vintage Trailer Rally, July 9-12. Open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 11.

• King County Fair, July 16-19.

• Scottish Highland Games, July 24-26.

• Puget Sound Labrador Retriever Show, Aug. 1-2.

• Rancho El Farallon Mexican Festival, Aug. 2.

• Win Me 5K Color Run, Aug. 1.

• Olympic Kennel Club dog show, Aug. 14-16.

• Enumclaw Pro Rodeo, Aug. 20-22.

For details about events, visit www.enumclawexpocenter.com.