Enumclaw taking steps to turn over Expo Center

The process of separating the city of Enumclaw from day-to-day operation of its Expo Center has taken a formal turn, with city administration now authorized to start looking for independent vendors to run the show.

The city council voted unanimously June 23, approving three motions that will help divorce the city from maintenance and operation of the multi-phase facility on the city’s eastern edge.

The Expo Center – which includes the fairgrounds, a fieldhouse and a recreational vehicle park – has long been subject to council scrutiny. The reason is primarily financial, as a cash reserve that came with the Expo Center has continued to dwindle.

The city took ownership of the Expo Center from King County, which also handed over cash intended to keep the grounds financially stable. The pot has slowly eroded and is in imminent danger of disappearing completely.

With money always an issue, the council took a cue from the adjacent golf course, also a former county property. The city retains ownership of the 18-hole course, but leaves operation of the facility to a private contractor.

Looking for answers, the city appointed a citizen Expo Center Advisory Committee, which arrived at a series of recommendations. The council acted on three of those during the June 23 session, directing city administration to:

• begin advertising for someone to operate one, or all three, of the Expo Center’s “core businesses,” referring to the fairgrounds, fieldhouse and RV park.

• determine the minimum operating costs that could still be charged by the city if a vendor were to take over the operation. It could be a situation like the golf course, where the city has a “hands off” approach and has no expenses. The priority is to assure potential bidders if there would be involvement with the city and, if so, what the cost would be.

• spend up to $2,500 to determine the land-use restrictions that might be tied to the Expo Center. When the county handed over the property, there were strings attached; the city is hoping to eliminate those restrictions to provide a wider range of options for the entire grounds.