It’s a long and slow process, with plenty of twists and turns, but there could be light at the end of the fiscal tunnel for the Enumclaw Expo Center.
“The path is long and it’s a little bumpy,” said Scott Gray, who oversees the Expo Center operation while issuing an annual report to the Enumclaw City Council. The bottom line, he said, is that the Expo operation is headed toward the point of self-sufficiency.
That certainly wasn’t the case a few years ago, Gray said, beginning his council report by recalling some fairly-recent history. The city-owned Expo Center was living off money provided by King County when the entire operation was handed to Enumclaw. Attempts were made to breathe life into the 72-acre operation, but the end result was the same: each year, money set aside for the Expo Center dwindled, with more going out than was brought in.
Gray, who was on an Expo Center advisory board at the time, spearheaded the notion that a nonprofit organization be formed to take control of the operation. The end result was the Enumclaw Expo and Events Association, a nonprofit entity run by a board of directors with Gray at the helm.
There have been notable success since the EEEA took control in July 2015, but turning the corner financially has been hard, Gray told the council.
“I’d like to think we’ll be in the black at the end of this year,” he said, offering cautious optimism. But the final three months of the calendar year traditionally drain revenues, so Gray made no guarantees.
If the Expo Center operation actually breaks even, he reminded, it would be the first time in years that finances hadn’t been upside-down.
In the end, Gray reported, “its going in the right direction and hopefully we’ll get there”
The 2017 report
Through July, Gray told the council, both total revenues and profit margins have increased significantly over 2016 levels.
Looking at individual events, he noted the early-in-the-year Wine and Chocolate Festival showed a 6 percent increase in profits. The annual Festival of Crafts shows signs of life, Gray said, even though “it’s been a long struggle.” And last month’s Hometown Throwdown brought in 5,000 people, leading to gross revenues of $30,000. The good crowd and hot weather, Gray said, prompted beer and food sales. The Olympic Kennel Club show again packed the grounds and organizers of the Scottish Highland Games, who tend to keep numbers close to the vest, indicated they might have had record attendance.
There’s also a significant uptick in weddings at the fieldhouse, Gray said.
The best news, he reported, is there’s an increased awareness throughout the Puget Sound region regarding Enumclaw in general and the Expo Center in particular. Instead of always having to beat the bushes to bring in shows, Gray said, people are beginning to seek out the Expo Center.
Looking ahead a month, Gray told the council of a new venture. A “haunted house” is coming to the Expo Center, an undertaking that could be relatively inexpensive to produce but has the potential for a decent financial payoff.
“These things are cash cows,” Gray said. “This could become a big event.”
The King County Fair
The signature event at the Expo Center each year is the King County Fair, a venture with deep roots in the region. Putting the fair’s history in perspective, Gray reminded that Abraham Lincoln was in office when the fair first opened its gates.
While the fair’s history might be long, the past couple of decades brought declining interest by the county and attendance that slowed to a trickle. But things are picking up since the nonprofit organization took control.
This year’s attendance reached 22,687, Gray said, or roughly 2,500 more than strolled through the gates in 2016. It wasn’t too many years ago that counts had dropped to less than 10,000.
Revenues outpaced expenses and, in the end, this year’s fair showed a net increase of 11.3 percent in profits, Gray said.
Contributing to the success were things like greater food choices and more “ground acts” like the Wenatchee Youth Circus, Gray said. Additionally, organizers have learned that spending too much money on musical entertainment simply doesn’t reap financial rewards.
Wrapping up the current state of affairs at the Expo Center, Gray sounded positive. “Its a long hard road,” he said, “but were making some headway.”