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Fair board plans further study of YMCA offer.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

The Lane County Fair Board decided Tuesday to continue its review of a YMCA sports project proposed at the fairgrounds, setting up a debate over use of the livestock building and the future of big animals on the grounds.

The board will meet again early next month to discuss two options: The YMCA's plan to pay $600,000 to convert the livestock building into three indoor soccer fields that it would run year-round, or more-regular use of the facility by livestock enthusiasts and others who need a dirt floor for activities.

The YMCA has proposed leasing the county's 36,000-square-foot livestock building and converting it into fields for all ages to use for soccer and other sports. The YMCA would take over all expenses for the building, and would generate $1.1 million for the county over a 10-year period, said Dave Perez, executive director of the YMCA.

In choosing to continue review of the proposal, the board rejected the recommendation of its managing director, Warren Wong, who has said the board will face prohibitively expensive costs to relocate horses and cows kept in the facility during the summer fair season.

Nevertheless, Wong himself also called the YMCA project "the most exciting proposal" in his six years at the helm, and that sentiment was echoed by board Chairman Bob Zagorin.

"This is a very attractive partnership and we would love to find a way to make this all work," he said.

But the board wants more time to resolve the big question: If the YMCA takes over the livestock building, where are the horses, cows and other big animals to be kept during the county and 4-H fairs at the fairgrounds?

Temporary or permanent structures built on the fairgrounds could cost the county $400,000 to $13 million in construction costs alone.

On the other hand, relocating animals away from the site could cost the county a main attraction during the fairs, Wong said.

All sides agree that the building is underused, due to restrictions that preclude the use of animals there for all but a few weeks of the year, during the fairs.

The building generates $27,000 in annual revenue - about one-quarter of the amount that the YMCA project would provide to the county each year.

In an effort to allow animal enthusiasts and others to present an alternative to the YMCA proposal for more frequent use of the livestock building, the board directed Sharon Matthews, Lane County Fair horse superintendent, to return with possibilities at next month's meeting.

Matthews said she'll probably focus on two paths: Conversion of all necessary facilities to ensure that animals can be used there year-round or more aggressive marketing of the existing structures to attract additional users.

She said she doubted that interest in the YMCA proposal will end in relocating big animals off the grounds: "I think people who are concerned with the viability of the fair will not let the animals go off site," Matthews said.

The board hopes to resolve use of the livestock building by the end of the year, a deadline set by the YMCA.

However, any discussion about the use of one aging facility at the 55-acre complex near downtown Eugene quickly snowballs into a much thornier debate about what to do with all of them - and whether the fairgrounds should even stay at its present location.

Debate about use of the livestock building ignores "the elephant in the room," Wong said: "What are you going to do with the fairgrounds? Ten, 15 years from now, can it continue to exist?"
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Title Annotation:Government; The project would convert the livestock building at the fairgrounds into soccer sites
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 27, 2006
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