Panel to weigh bill that would transform state fair into public corporation
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- A Senate committee will take testimony April 2 on a bill to give the Oregon State Fair the flexibility to function outside of statutes that regulate other state agencies.
Senate Bill 7 would create a public corporation that would assume control of the state fair and the operation of fairground properties and facilities.
The management change from a state agency to a public corporation will allow the fair to enter into contracts more freely and better market the annual event.
Under rules governing state agencies, the fair is required to go through several steps before entering into contracts with vendors and marketers.
The rules hamper the fair's ability to turn a profit and function smoothly, said Lisa Van Laanen, an assistant director for Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
"We've got the processes as effective as they can be within the confines of the state statues. Now we need flexibility," Van Laanen said.
"If you look out there across the rest of the United States, the (state fairs) that are successful are nonprofit (corporations)," she said. "They aren't constrained by state rules and processes."
SB7 establishes an 11- to 13-member State Fair Council that would represent agricultural and other business interests and oversee a state fair executive director.
Van Laanen said the council's primary directive will be to manage the fairgrounds when the fair is not in session.
"The focus of the council is not so much the fair, but the other ... 354 days," she said.
The council will work closely with city officials and business interests to increase revenue generated from the fairgrounds, which it would lease from the state.
Van Laanen said the council could create a fair board or committee to operate the 11-day Oregon State Fair.
Under the bill, none of the council's employees would be state employees.
The council would start from "ground zero," she said, responsible for hiring all employees to operate the fair and the fairgrounds under the public corporation.
The council also would create its own corporate policies and procedures, likely with help from the state Parks and Recreation Department, she said.
Van Laanen characterized the reformation of the State Fair as a last ditch attempt to save an event that has cost the state more than $30 million since 2006.
"It is do this or do the alternative (which is no state fair)," she said. "We were getting down to that point of we've got to have a real conversation (about that potential).
"The economy is different. Everything is different now," she said.
"We have got to find a way to make it sustainable," she said.
The Senate Rural Communities and Economic Development has scheduled a public hearing and work session on SB7 beginning at 3 p.m. April 2 in Hearing Room C of the Oregon State Capitol.