Changes in store for fairgrounds

County commissioners have agreed to commit $150,000 for a housing project on the fairgrounds.

Things are afoot at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds, even when the facilities aren’t full of 4-H animals, carnival rides and fried food vendors.

Island County commissioners have agreed to move forward with committing $150,000 in funding for a workforce housing project on the fairgrounds, which are owned by the Port of South Whidbey. The funds will cover assessment of the existing infrastructure at the site and preliminary engineering.

Earlier this year, the Port of South Whidbey hired a new fairgrounds director, Amanda Ellis. During the port’s monthly meeting in October, Ellis announced the addition of a marketing assistant and events host, who is helping to coordinate events on the port-owned fairgrounds when it’s not fair time.

A new renter is moving into the Coffman Building at the end of this month. Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative is adding a weekly pick-up station for its popular food hub program.

“I really hope that this helps kind of piece things together for some of these start-up businesses as well and that they might be able to help each other find ways to get their product out there and to grow their business,” Ellis said.

Unfortunately, it’s not been all good news for the fairgrounds. A number of items were recently stolen from a tool shed and from the auditorium in the Coffman Building. Ellis said security cameras will be installed in multiple locations around the site to protect the safety of the fairgrounds’ long-term renters.

Additionally, Stan Reeves, the port’s executive director, announced earlier in the meeting that Goosefoot is ending its partnership with the port on a project to update the commercial kitchen – also known as the Coffman Kitchen – on the fairgrounds. The nonprofit organization has set its sights on using a commercial kitchen located on its own property.

For nearly six years, the two entities have partnered on the project, which has been stalled by high construction costs and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reeves said the termination puts the port in a position to reevaluate exactly what it wants to do with the kitchen, which could include scaling back the project and simply replacing the heating system and water heater, upgrading the electrical system, maybe a little bit of structural work “but not the entire plan that we’d been hoping for.”

Commissioner Curt Gordon said that while he was sad to see the relationship with Goosefoot go, he didn’t blame them.

“It would have been a wonderful outcome, but at the same time, if they’re able to do that on their own property, that’s fine,” he said. “I’m totally good with that.”

Goosefoot originally secured $346,625 in congressionally directed spending funds through Rep. Rick Larsen’s office for the project. The grant award was only for equipment costs, not construction costs.

Marian Myszkowski, Goosefoot’s director of programs, said the funds will be used exclusively for the organization’s commercial kitchen in the Bayview area. Goosefoot has decided to open a shared, incubator commercial kitchen on its own, housed in the former location of the Big W and Neil’s Clover Patch restaurants at Bayview Center. Goosefoot’s decision to not continue leasing the space as a restaurant opened it up for commercial kitchen use. Farmers and small business entrepreneurs will utilize the space.

As Myszkowski pointed out, the partner project with the Port of South Whidbey was already halted once in January 2020 when construction bids came in over budget.

“With labor and materials rising even further after the pandemic, we are concerned this might happen again, once again delaying the project,” she said.

Goosefoot’s next step is to develop a floor plan for the new location, which will need to incorporate new pieces of food processing and baking equipment. More information can be found at