Enumclaw's empty Expo Center has seen a large financial loss. Courtesy photo

Enumclaw council hears of tough financial times at Expo Center

Director Rene Popke has estimated the Expo could see a net loss of $700,000 by the end of the year.

“We’ve definitely had an interesting year.”

That summed up the report issued last week by Rene Popke, executive director at the Enumclaw Expo Center. Her comment was addressed to members of the Enumclaw City Council, who had gathered – via Zoom, as usual these days – for a regularly-scheduled Oct. 12 meeting.

Popke periodically reports to the council, offering details about the comings-and-goings at the venue on the city’s eastern edge. The Expo Center is owned by the city but operated by the nonprofit Enumclaw Expo and Events Association, which Popke heads.

Given the ongoing pandemic and everything that goes with it, her report offered grim financial news. The negative numbers are a direct result of the many events that had to be cancelled due to state and county guidelines regarding large, public gatherings.

Popke said she’s looking at a net loss of perhaps $500,000 during the Expo Center’s “busy season,” which is considered to be June through September. By the end of the year, she said, the deficit could be in the $700,000 range.

“Overall, we’re had a rough year,” she said, echoing the sentiments of shared by others in the industry and the business community in general.

Heading the list of this year’s cancelled events were the King County Fair and the Scottish Highland Games, the latter of which draws an estimated crowd of 25,000 to Enumclaw.

But it wasn’t just the lack of major events that quieted the Expo Center grounds, Popke said. There were perhaps a dozen smaller events that had to be scrapped, along with 18 weddings and memorials that had been slated for the fieldhouse.

So far, the Expo Center operation has issued refunds totaling $46,000 for events that will not take place.

Shifting to some good news, Popke reported that money is continuing to flow the center’s way. There was a $3,700 grant from 4Culture, for example, and some smaller events on the grounds. The federal Payment Protection Program delivered funds that kept staff employed and the city rented tables and chairs from the center to be used downtown. Finally, she said, there has been some money from fees paid for anticipated 2021 events and the operation also has been able to draw on reserve funds.

Another bit of good news: “The grounds have looked amazing this year,” Popke said, because the maintenance staff was able to tackle projects without interruption.

Also on a positive note, Popke explained the center’s rodeo arena has been expanded by 500 seats, thanks to grant money, and the “announcer’s box” has been replaced; the old one, she said, was on its last legs and the new version includes a suite for special guests.

Looking to the not-so-distant future, Popke reported the Expo Center is partnering with the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce for a “Hometown Holiday” celebration. Planned for Dec. 4-6, it will be a “drive-through Christmas experience,” she said, with performers from local dance studios performing “The Nutcracker” and a live nativity scene.

The event will help fill the void created by the loss of a holiday parade through downtown. The popular, annual event is another COVID-related casualty.

ANOTHER REPORT: VISIT RAINIER

The electronically-assembled council also heard from Meilee Anderson, marketing consultant for Visit Rainier. The organization is supported by cities and towns around Mount Rainier, including Enumclaw, and works to promote events and activities in the region.

Anderson delivered a bit of good news on the “heads in beds” front.

“Despite everything 2020 has thrown at us, Enumclaw lodging referrals are up 4 percent,” she said. “I would have considered it a win just to be flat,” she added.

Visit Rainier has counted nearly 3,000 motel bookings for Enumclaw this year, Anderson said, at an average nightly rate of $69. She quickly agreed that the number seems low, but explained why: the rate includes two local motels but also factors in rentals at the Expo Center’s RV park, which is less expensive.

Anderson reminded the council that Visit Rainier focuses on six key efforts: lodging, dining, events (Sundays on Cole, for example), marketing, public relations and media, and travel guides.

The promotional efforts will continue, Anderson said, despite “landslides, wildfires, COVID and everything else that’s been thrown at us.”

A FEW OTHER ITEMS

Also on their Oct. 12 agenda, members of the Enumclaw City Council:

• Were reminded of the “October Night Market” that takes over Cole Street from 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays. Two more events remain, Oct. 23 and 30, and are weather-dependent.

• Were also reminded of a second event aimed at providing some downtown fun. Firepits are being set up from 2 p.m. Fridays until 9 p.m. Sundays. Restaurants will be selling s’more kits or folks can bring their own graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate.

• Heard from citizens Kathy Dormeier and Marian Jensen, who were representing the Environmental Committee of the League of Women Voters.

King County, they explained, has developed a planning guide to reach climate goals and mitigate the “climate crisis we’re in.”

They expressed hope that Enumclaw will join the effort and, when reasonable, take environmentally-friendly steps.


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