Expo Center sees jump in revenue, notes need for physical renovations

There's much to like about the current status of the Enumclaw Expo Center, but there also are concerns that must be addressed.

There’s much to like about the current status of the Enumclaw Expo Center, but there also are concerns that must be addressed.

That was the message delivered to members of the Enumclaw City Council by Scott Gray, who handles day-to-day operations at the 72-acre facility on the city’s eastern edge. He serves as manager of the Enumclaw Expo and Events Association, the nonprofit entity that has taken responsibility for the former King County Fairgrounds.

Gray stepped before the council Aug. 8 and delivered what he called a “first-year report card.” The EEEA took control of the Expo Center on July 1, 2015.

Finances are the crucial item at the Expo Center, which was a losing venture while under city control. Now, the city maintains ownership of the grounds and all the physical facilities, but the association runs the show.

During its first full year of operation, the Enumclaw Expo and Events Association turned a profit of $53,000, Gray reported, noting that revenues totaled about $750,000.

“We’re in the black and that was our main goal,” Gray said. “To keep this thing from running in the red.”

The fair is a big deal

While Gray and his small team look to keep the grounds busy with events both big and small, the King County Fair easily demands the most attention.

The 2016 edition of the fair was nearly all positive, Gray said, noting that overall revenues climbed by $104,000 from the year before – a jump of 45 percent. Continuing to talk numbers, he said the carnival owner did big business (“the check he gave me was up 80 percent”), returning food venders reported their business climbed by 55 percent and the ATM machines were called upon to pump out a lot more cash for fairgoers.

None of that happens without people walking through the gate and Gray reported this year’s four-day fair broke the 20,000 barrier, up 4,400 visitors from a year ago.

Among the things that went right, he said, were the K9 Kings acrobatic dog show that consistently filled the bleachers, the massive longhorn steers and a first-time truck pull that added $30,000 in revenues, not counting the added concessions. The 4-H numbers were way up and a variety of local bands pulled in people who had just left the food vendors.

Gray admitted the “main stage” entertainment didn’t provide the hoped-for enthusiasm, something that will bring a change in direction.

“We thought these people had big followings and they didn’t,” Gray noted, “so we’re going to stick with local bands, people in the area.”

Overall, things were a viewed as a success and 103 survey respondents agreed. Of those participating in a post-fair survey, two-thirds offered an “excellent” or “very good” review.

The future is bright in terms of vendors, Gray said, explaining more are wanting to be a part of the King County Fair.

“We have people recognizing this is a viable place…and they’re willing to spend money for it,” he told the council.

But there’s more than just the fair

Continuing his first-year summary, Gray cited both the Expo Center’s ups and downs.

On the plus side, the popular Wine and Chocolate Festival showed an increase in profits of 39 percent over the year before and the Festival Crafts grew by 17 percent. A quarterly flea market on the Expo Center grounds started with just a handful of vendors and has grown to the Exhibit Hall, with future plans for filling two buildings, Gray said.

On the flip side, organizers saw a $1,000 dip with the annual Brewfest, offered in October.

“To throw a Halloween party on Halloween night doesn’t work,” Gray said. “Going forward, we won’t do things like that.”

Additional revenues came from the RV park on the grounds. A previous fee structure took a one-price-fits-all approach, even though some sites are more desirable than others. A higher fee was implemented for prime spots, Gray said, and they’re the first ones snapped up.

The future depends on more events

“We’re starting to become a dot on the map,” Gray said, indicating a growing awareness of the Expo Center as a venue for larger events.

The best example of that, he said, is the coming Hometown Throwdown, an event sponsored annually by The Wolf, a Seattle radio station. Last year’s one-day country music festival was staged at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

“This is gong to be a huge event,” Gray said, noting that a crowd of 5,000 is anticipated for the Sept. 18 show that will feature 10 acts.

Other examples of the Expo Center’s growing visibility are the coming Northwest Suburu Show and the recent NW Roots music festival.

Such events, Gray said, “are crucial to where Expo continues to go.”

With that, he issued a warning.

There has been talk of the city changing the current noise ordinance and making it more restrictive. If that were to occur, Gray said, much of the Expo Center’s current momentum would disappear – as would some potential attractions.

“The things that we’re pursuing are music driven,” he said. Those who might bring events to Enumclaw may not want to extend shows past midnight or 1 a.m., he added, “but they want to know that they can.”

Some things to be worked on

“The Expo grounds are in much worse physical shape than we initially thought,” Gray said. An example of the trouble came just a week prior to the fair when a bathroom ceiling collapsed.

While the Enumclaw Expo and Events Association has turned a financial corner and shown a profit, there’s not enough cash on hand to tackle capital improvements, he said. Gray asked that the city and they association work on a long-term plan to tackle problem areas, noting that the city has not used any of its own money on the grounds. Any expenditures came from a pot of cash delivered by King County when ownership was transferred from the county to the city.

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