Whidbey Island Fair will go on despite controversy

Organizers for one of the summer’s biggest events have decided that the show must go on, despite some unprecedented challenges.

The Whidbey Island Fair is happening July 27-30, Fair Manager Carol Coble confirmed Thursday evening.

The fair association and the Port of South Whidbey, which owns the fairgrounds, have been in negotiations for the past two weeks. Earlier this year, port officials presented the fair association with a lease agreement that excludes the full use of the Malone and Burrier buildings. Long-term tenants who occupy the space have been asked in the past to move out during the fair, but that wasn’t a requirement this year.

The two structures have historically been used for open-class, all-ages exhibits, such as quilting, sewing, floral arrangements, canning and baked goods, as well as agricultural displays by community organizations.

Unhappy with this new arrangement, the fair association refused to sign its lease agreement with the port, which in turn hindered planning for the fair. Staff from Washington State University Extension of Island County stepped in as mediators of the discussion between fair association and port officials.

One tenant in the Burrier building has volunteered to sublet some space, which will free up about 2,100 square feet for some of the displaced exhibits and displays. In addition, the fair association has also decided to take advantage of some space in the Malone building that was offered in their original lease agreement. In an email to The Record, former port Executive Director Stan Reeves said the fair association’s lease excluded the use of about 70% of the Malone building – so the amount available is about 30% of the space.

The question of where to put the rest of the uprooted exhibits and displays, however, remains to be figured out.

“It’s pretty worrisome that people are going to bring less,” Coble said of the exhibitors. “We just don’t even really know where we’re going to put some of this stuff.”

One possible solution might be to place them in a tent. Ultimately, the fair association decided to take the “higher ground,” as Coble put it.

“The reason that we’re moving forward is for the community, and we’re just going to do what we can to provide the best time,” she said. “We’ll have a carnival, lots of good food. We’ve really upped our game with the entertainment … we’re just going to go for it.”

She added that negotiations will likely be picked back up in September and will center around the 2024 fair. It’s possible that lease arrangements could be different next year.