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Fair board backs YMCA plan.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

The Lane County Fair Board on Monday endorsed a plan to replace horse events with indoor soccer fields at the fairgrounds, although the final decision rests with the county commissioners.

The fair board voted unanimously to recommend that the commissioners consider a proposal by the YMCA to convert the 36,000-square-foot livestock building into three multipurpose sports fields, which the YMCA would operate for at least 10 years while renting the space from the fair board.

The move could displace or eliminate horse events during the Lane County Fair and 4-H Youth Fair, and some say that's a significant break from the rural roots of the 55-acre fairgrounds at Jefferson Street and 13th Avenue.

Fair board member Tom Hunton acknowledged those feelings but said major upgrades are needed to save the aging complex, officially called the Lane Events Center.

"All of this is going to take change that not everybody's going to be comfortable with," he said.

The livestock building sits vacant about 330 days out of the year, but is packed with horse competitions, judging and other equine activities during the three weeks each summer when the fairs are held.

But the fair board's commitment to moving the horse events could end with a better venue, said Warren Wong, managing director of the complex.

"I don't think attendance at the fair will drop significantly" without horse activities, he added. "Overall, attendance could grow" if the off-site facility is better.

Inherent in the discussion about the YMCA proposal is a question that has vexed both the board of commissioners and fair board for years: What to do with the aging complex?

Wong recommended last month that the fair board reject the YMCA project because the fair board and commissioners hadn't dealt with the future of the fairgrounds.

The fair board resolved that concern Monday, but now the proposal goes to a board of commissioners that has given what fair board member Steven Ward called "diametrically opposed" directions about the site's future.

The livestock building's $30,000 in annual operating costs generally exceeds by about $3,000 the money it makes. The YMCA has promised to cover all operating costs, part of $100,000 it will give annually to the fair board.

Under the proposal, the fair board would save a portion of that and, with money from hotel-room taxes, start saving the near-$1 million needed to analyze whether portions or all of the fairgrounds should be renovated, relocated or razed.

The YMCA originally proposed using the livestock building 10 months out of the year - leaving the facility open to horses during the fairs - but couldn't make the costs pencil out.

During the fairs, all animals except horses can be housed and displayed elsewhere on the grounds, Wong said.

But eliminating horse activities during the 4-H fair would eliminate about 30 percent of the fair's youth participants, said Carolyn Ashton, a member of the 4-H youth development faculty.

Those activities would have to be relocated and rescheduled because there wouldn't be enough staff and parents to coordinate off-site horse events while the rest of the 4-H fair continues at the fairgrounds, Ashton said.

Still, she described herself as "cautiously optimistic" about the YMCA project, because the fair board is committed to finding an alternative for horse enthusiasts. "It's still better than nothing," Ashton said.

The board of commissioners will take up the recommendation during a joint meeting with the fair board on Nov. 14.
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Title Annotation:Government; A proposed conversion of the livestock building into sports facilities could trot horse events off the fairgrounds
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 10, 2006
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