Mason County Event Center Update

fair signPatty Case, representative and leader of the Skookum Rotary Foundation have been investigating the possibilities of a new Event Center for Mason County. On Tuesday, Case gave a presentation to the Port of Shelton Commission on the progress of their findings.

The team investigated potential locations for the center, who would actually build the Center, who would actually run the Center once it was built, and the timeline for actual completion of the Center. Case followed up with the next steps required for the team’s proposal. (Proposal is below)

Testimony heard from Case and three other event organizers indicated four events for calendar year 2014 have been or are in danger of being canceled. The County according to Commissioner Jeffreys cannot prepare and award any lease in the timeframe requested in the proposal and needed by the Port to support the FAA’s requirements for approving a fairgrounds for 2014 events. The proposal did not list an exact time frame, but Port and County process requirements make the reality of getting a signed lease together in time to support the planning of a 2014 Fair a challenge.

April 16, 2014/JE KMAS News

Proposal: (Download in PDF)

Mason County Event Center
Report on Progress
April 15, 2014
For many years, Mason County has had a fairgrounds, on which the Mason County Fair and other events have been held.  In 1964, Mason County negotiated a deal with the Port of Shelton to lease for 50 years a site south of the Port’s east-west runway for a fairgrounds.  This allowed construction of several buildings to house exhibits and vendors for the annual Fair.  Construction was done for the most part by volunteers interested in one or another aspect of the fair and the fairgrounds.


More recently, Skookum Rotary Foundation’s OysterFest has become the largest event held annually at the fairgrounds. Other events have been cultivated in an effort to make the facility profitable and to bring visitors to the area.  These events bring tourists and locals together, providing varying levels of additional economic vitality to our community.


The Port of Shelton owns the land under which the current fairgrounds site. A 50-year lease to the Mason County was terminated in 2009 when the county determined for budgetary reasons that it could not continue to operate the fairgrounds. The Port of Shelton agreed to keep the fairgrounds open for various events through the lease expiration date of December 31, 2014. Port elected officials have consistently voted to terminate the lease, based on feedback from the Federal Aviation Administration that the site should be reserved for aviation related uses.  There are currently no plans to extend the lease, nor are there plans in Mason County to establish a new facility.


Sporadic marketing of the current facility, along with the instability of management and concerns about ongoing operation, have led to attrition from many groups. Stability and communication are needed to stop the attrition and marketing will be critical to adding new events in order to make an event center viable.


Shelton Skookum Rotary Foundation volunteered to facilitate a process going forward for a new Event Center, so named because such a center would need to provide for, but not be limited to, a county fair.  Our charge is to deliver a plan for an Event Center, including:  Where will it be located?  Who will build it and how will it be financed? Who will operate it? What is the timeline? Assuming the Port of Shelton accepts this plan, it may consider year-to-year rental of the current fairgrounds until such time as events can be moved to a new facility. Of course, this arrangement would be null and void should the Port attract a lessee with ties to aviation.


Below you will find a first report, reflecting several community  conversations:


Where will it be located?
Criteria for location include the following:

  1. Facility and RV parking footprint to match current fairgrounds in size (+-25 acres) and terrain (flat)
  2. Parking footprint to match or exceed current fairgrounds (+-13 acres)
  3. Additional parking nearby
  4. Proximate to major thoroughfare  (such as US101) for ease of ingress and egress
  5. Proximate to current fairgrounds to enable moving personal property (with permission and cooperation from Port of Shelton)
  6. Proximate to utility infrastructure (power, water, sewer)
  7. Proximate to Green Diamond Resource Company land (see stakeholder input – Puget Sound Enduro Riders)
  8. Cost

At this point, one site rises to the top of the possibilities: A 42 acre site, owned by Mason County, at the corner of US 101 and SR 102, and adjacent to the Mason County Public Works campus.  (According to Brian Matthews, 7 acres is promised to Mason County Sheriff’s office for an evidence locker. Another 2 acres, outside the original site, could be added, for a total of 37 acres.)The site is owned by Mason County.  There has been some question as to whether the site was purchased with Public Works dollars; this is not the case.  If possible, the preferred alternative would be to lease the site for 75 years at a nominal rate.

This site meets all criteria except #7 above. It may be possible to use a recently passed law allowing limited on-road access on public roads with permission of the county to meet this criterion.


 In conversation with Commissioner Terri Jeffreys, questions arose as to how such a lease might be provided.  A recent review ordered by Commissioner Terri Jeffreys and completed by Tim Whitehead of the Mason County Prosecutor’s office indicated the following:

“This message is a follow up to our conversation last Thursday.  We had discussed issues related to leasing county owned property to an organization that would manage the fair/misc. events.  We had also discussed potential lease structures that would include a number of provisions, one of which being a nominal rental fee.  I understand that this idea is in the planning phase and that nothing has become official at this point.   

You inquired as to the legality of leasing county owned property at a nominal rate and how that may implicate the constitutional prohibition on gifting of public funds.  We had also discussed that the potential lease would also include provisions where the lessee would take on additional duties relating to the property subject to the lease, i.e. perform the maintenance and operation activities, provide insurance, etc.

The gifting issue revolves around consideration and donative intent.  For a lease of this nature to be illegal it would have to amount to a transfer of property (county) without consideration and with donative intent.  In assessing consideration, courts do not inquire into the adequacy of consideration, but employ a legal sufficiency test.

The potential lease at issue would include a rental amount (nominal), maintenance/operations clause(s), insurance requirements, etc.  All of these factors make up the total consideration received by the county. 

Therefore, in my opinion a lease of this nature would meet the test of legal sufficiency and would not violate the constitution.”


Of course, this does not presume that the County Commission as a whole has weighed in on this issue or has made any decisions regarding the land.

Other sites considered include:

  • County property adjacent to Ridge Motor Sports facility – owned by Mason County Public Works and therefore is currently confined to Public Works use.  Other issues include 4 and 6 above. If this is a preferred option for the county, conversation with owners of the Ridge Motor Sports facility and Green Diamond, which also owns property in the area, must be a next step for the Skookum Rotary Foundation facilitators in order to better understand  proposed future uses for the surrounding property.
  • Green Diamond property in the vicinity – a possibility, but would require analysis of market value and a formal request of owners – probably not a straight donation.
  • Other land on Port property – The Port has suggested that they have other land that would, at least in the short term, be suitable for holding events.  It was determined that the best path forward would be to find a permanent site for a new Event Center.
  • Squaxin Island Tribe – In conversation with tribal representative Ray Peters, he suggested there may be a nexus for this type of event center on tribal land. That may be a viable option, but it requires additional research and discussion with the Tribe and others. It is assumed the property would be near the Little Creek Casino complex; this does not meet criterion #5 above and the footprint of such a site was not discussed.

Who will build it?
In order to determine who might build an event center in the community, tenant needs were assessed.  (Please see Appendix).  Using the list of last year’s facility renters, we asked tenants not what they wanted, which has been the central question in the past, but what they needed.  This can provide for a phased-in approach to construction.


Generally, renters need flat ground with electrical and running water as well as a minimum of facilities. Most events can be handled with tents and other temporary structures. The Rodeo and the Mason County Fair are both in need of arenas and the fair requires other enclosures, many of which may be accommodated with temporary structures in the short term.  Stalls will be needed for some animals; this can be accommodated by pole barns with partitions.  Restrooms would be desired at the earliest possible convenience. Several organizers expressed a strong desire for RV hookups, although again that was not a first priority need.  One organization requested an office for secure handling of money.  


One event from the list of last year’s fairgrounds lessees has already signed a lease with another facility.


Infrastructure costs would be more reasonable at this site, as the regional sewer and water line runs adjacent to it and Public Works’ hookup will require a right-of-way along the property. Electrical and road needs have yet to be researched. Grant funding from public and private sources and in-kind donations from private sources must be researched to move forward with these infrastructure needs.

The site would need to be further prepared with sod and/or crushed rock. It is possible that some of this could be donated.

The following organizations indicated a potential willingness to help with funding and/or sponsoring structures:
Green Diamond Resource Company
Manke Resources
Simpson Lumber Company
Squaxin Island Tribe
Taylor Shellfish

Longer term, a larger pavilion, additional enclosures and additional restrooms, as well as a stage, may be constructed.  In conversation with Bill Dewey and Marco Pinchot of Taylor Shellfish, a mutually beneficial concept of providing historic and interpretive industry exhibitry in exchange for sponsorship of building construction was identified.


The current fairgrounds was built using predominantly volunteer help over a period of several years.  While this method has been blamed for myriad issues with the facility, it is more likely the result of years of deferred maintenance, particularly where building codes have changed and safety requirements updated.  Care would need to be taken to ensure compliance with current building and other codes, but the volunteer spirit is alive and well in Mason County and should be utilized to build a new event center.


Who will run it?
One of the keys to successful operation of an event center such as this is a reasonable operating budget. For this and other reasons, it is recommended that a non-profit organization run the event center, providing security, maintenance, operations and marketing for the facility.


The erosion of tenants at the current fairgrounds facility has already been noted. Competition is fierce for attracting events to these types of facilities, and a minimally appointed event center will only be attractive to the most loyal – and place-based – of tenants. In conversation with John and Rachel Hansen, they indicated that three additional major events the size of OysterFest would be needed, as well as at least 15 smaller ones, to break even in operating an event center. For this reason, it is recommended that additional sources of ongoing revenue be identified.  The committee also recommends that public funding be sought among the voters for both construction and maintenance. This could take the form of a vote on a metropolitan parks and facilities district, a public development authority, or redistribution of the transit tax. Regardless, submitting the question to the voters will provide critical feedback on the importance of such a facility over the long term.


Two additional sources of ongoing revenue were identified:  RV hookups and a convenience store or similar operation on the site of the event center. The proximity to US101 might be advantageous for such amenities, and both could be operated by the non-profit organization with a portion of the profit going back to the county general fund in addition to ensuring adequate m&o revenue for the event center.
In conversation with Ray Peters of the Squaxin Island Tribe, it was pointed out that a sound business plan is crucial to both the construction and ongoing success of an event center. This is seen as an important next step.


What is the timeline?
As the economy here in Mason County has only now begun to recover, we suggest a conservative timeline for development of an event center. Many time-consuming additional steps are outlined above.  We estimate 3-5 years for a bare bones facility, including cleared and prepared ground, water and electrical, and minimal restroom facilities. Full build out would depend on buy-in for various structures by public and private funders; we anticipate a 10-15 year time frame.  Below, under "Next Steps” is a proposed timeline to the point at which a separate nonprofit (with SSRCF involvement) assumes control of the project.


Obviously, much work remains.  Shelton Skookum Rotary Club Foundation is committed to ongoing facilitation of this process, until such time as a nonprofit organization can be identified to manage an event center.

 

Next steps:

Tasks

Assigned

Complete by

Acceptance of report and initiation of one-year leases

Port of Shelton

ASAP

Acceptance of report and ongoing commitment

Mason County

ASAP

Initial facilities plan and budget

(volunteer identified)

December 31, 2014

Business plan

Ray Peters, John and Rachel Hansen

December 31, 2014

Formal request for consideration

SSRCF and County Commissioners

July 31, 2014

Fundraising and grants

SSRCF and all current users, others (county resources)

Ongoing – SSRCF to act as fiscal agent until new nonprofit is formed

Create nonprofit entity for lease

SSRCF

June 30, 2015