Opponents put brakes on $10.12-million plan for Whidbey fair

Carnival-goers enjoy one of the rides during last year’s Whidbey Island Area Fair. A multimillion dollar plan to revamp the fairgrounds has drawn criticism from a group of island residents.  - File photo 2013
Carnival-goers enjoy one of the rides during last year’s Whidbey Island Area Fair. A multimillion dollar plan to revamp the fairgrounds has drawn criticism from a group of island residents.
— image credit: File photo 2013

Opponents of a $10.12 million, 10-year plan to change the Island County Fairgrounds got what they wanted — a slower, more public approach to saving the property.

After a final public presentation of the 100-plus page proposal, which outlines everything from the property’s history to its potential for $3 million in revenue, members of a group opposing the plan announced it will not be going before the Island County Commissioners this month.

One of the plan’s most vocal opponents wasn’t ready to claim victory quite yet, however, noting that she agrees with the premise that something must change at the 12.8-acre fairgrounds, located in Langley.

“I’m thrilled that they’re taking a step back, but I’m not sure what is next,” said Wendy Sundquist during a telephone interview.

Sundquist attended a meeting last week in Oak Harbor  and two previous meetings on South Whidbey. She said the consensus from the steering committee in Oak Harbor was that they are not going to take the proposal, as it exists, to the commissioners.

“I don’t know at this time what they’re going to do,” she said.

“They felt like they couldn’t present it, and needed to get together as a steering committee and talk about what their next step is.”

“They have to do something,” she said.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who serves on the steering committee and represents South and Central Whidbey, said the committee and Island County Economic Development Council are looking for public input on the proposal.

Price Johnson confirmed that no date is set for the commissioners to receive the proposal.

“When they’re ready to move forward, we’ll set a date,”  she said in a voice message last week. “We’ve been listening and taking into account all of the suggestions that have been received.”

The proposal was originally going to be presented at two public meetings, one on South Whidbey and the other in Oak Harbor. It was slated to go before the county commissioners in late March.

Public outcry from South and Central Whidbey residents was such that a second meeting was deemed necessary, delaying the Oak Harbor presentation.

On Wednesday, North Whidbey had its chance to hear steering committee members pitch the proposal, which includes tearing down 15 buildings, leaving a dozen structures intact.

Many of the existing small animal barns and the antique barn were slated for demolition during the first of four phases.

Sundquist said about 30 people showed up at the Oak Harbor meeting, less than half of the attendance at the final Langley meeting. She blamed poor solicitation and announcement of the meeting, but also acknowledged that north end residents may not be as engaged in the fairgrounds as Central and South Whidbey residents.

The major question of how to save the fair by separating its management group, the Whidbey Island Fair Association, from taking care of the county property remained unanswered and a priority for the steering committee.

One positive that Sundquist said came out of the debate was increased interest in looking at ways to improve the property.

“There is a lot of momentum,” she said. “A lot of people are interested.”

Sundquist and several members of the group “Friends of the Fair group, which formed to oppose the plan, plan to join the fair association that oversees the four-day showcase and property until another solution is found.

“That’s the way we can help, at this point,” she said.


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