Fair has a lot riding on it this year

High attendance key to keeping additional pressure off county budget

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What: Clark County Fair

Friday hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield

Admission: 8 to 11 a.m. Friday, free admission and pancake breakfast with coupon from participating Fred Meyer stores. General admission: adults, $10; seniors 62 and older, $8; kids 7-12, $7; kids 6 and younger, free. Friday evening only, $5 admission after 8 p.m. Group packs are available for admission discounts daily.

Parking and transportation: Parking, $6 per vehicle; C-Tran shuttle, $2 round-trip from area park-and-ride lots. C-Tran riders get a $1 discount on fair admission. C-Tran fair schedules

Carnival: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., unlimited rides Friday, $25.

Grandstands: The Beach Boys, 7:30 p.m., tickets include fair admission; First Friday Countryfest, noon to 7:30 p.m.

Other highlights: Dock Dogs, Big Air WAVE Competitions at noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m.; 4-H Style Show at 6 p.m.

Pets: Not permitted, except for personal service animals or those on exhibition or in competition.

Send your fair photos to The Columbian

More information: Clark County Fair or 360-397-6180.

What: Clark County Fair

Friday hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield

Admission: 8 to 11 a.m. Friday, free admission and pancake breakfast with coupon from participating Fred Meyer stores. General admission: adults, $10; seniors 62 and older, $8; kids 7-12, $7; kids 6 and younger, free. Friday evening only, $5 admission after 8 p.m. Group packs are available for admission discounts daily.

Parking and transportation: Parking, $6 per vehicle; C-Tran shuttle, $2 round-trip from area park-and-ride lots. C-Tran riders get a $1 discount on fair admission. C-Tran fair schedules

Carnival: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., unlimited rides Friday, $25.

Grandstands: The Beach Boys, 7:30 p.m., tickets include fair admission; First Friday Countryfest, noon to 7:30 p.m.

Other highlights: Dock Dogs, Big Air WAVE Competitions at noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m.; 4-H Style Show at 6 p.m.

Pets: Not permitted, except for personal service animals or those on exhibition or in competition.

Send your fair photos to The Columbian

More information: Clark County Fair or 360-397-6180.

RIDGEFIELD — The Clark County Fair opens Friday for a 10-day run, and hopes are high for perfect weather and record attendance.

The hopes are high not only because organizers want the fair to live up to the motto of “Summer’s Best Party,” but because of the already-stressed county budget.

It costs approximately $3 million to stage the fair, said Clark County Fair Manager John Morrison.

That’s not the worrisome part. Last year the fair turned a $300,000 profit. The event draws approximately 250,000 people, ranks as the largest fair in the Portland area and has consistently been rated the top fair by the Washington State Fairs Association.

But as the biggest annual event at the Clark County Fairgrounds, it needs to turn an even bigger profit to support the horse arena and the Clark County Event Center, two venues that don’t pay their own way and are part of the same “fair fund.”

That’s a separate pot of money from the county’s general fund ($280 million for a two-year budget).

The county has never needed to dip into the general fund — two-thirds of which goes for public safety — to support the fair fund.

But the fair fund was one of the red revenue flags cited by county budget director Jim Dickman on July 27 when he told county commissioners that revenues are not on target and, if the 2011-12 general fund isn’t revisited, the county’s on track to be short $3.9 million by the end of next year.

According to a quarterly report from the county’s Fairground Site Management Group, the fair fund through June 30 was operating at a loss of $101,968.

Cancellations can really hurt. For example, the horse arena lost $20,000 in expected revenues after an outbreak of equine herpes forced the cancellations of four weekend events.

“The fair will put us in profitable territory, and then the fair is over and whatever profit we make from the fair we’ll eat off the rest of the year,” said Mark McCauley, the county’s general services manager.

If that profit margin isn’t big enough, the difference will come from the general fund.

A sunny forecast and aggressive advertising campaign have Morrison and marketing manager Matt Ferris optimistic they’ll have a record-breaking year.

The 10-day weather forecast looks encouraging, Morrison said. Temperatures in the low 80s and high 70s, few clouds.

Morrison knows all too well the role weather plays in the fair’s success.

In 2009, three rainy days dampened attendance, which was 243,698.

Last year, the fair was on pace to draw more than 270,000 people through the gates, but attendance dropped off the final weekend when temperatures rose into the high 90s; rides had to be temporarily shut down because the seats were too hot.

Attendance ended up at 254,797.

The opening day last year, with its free pancake breakfast, drew 40,121 people.

While attendance numbers reflect everyone who walks through a gate, paid attendance last year was down 1 percent.

But just getting people to the fair, whether they pay full-price admission or none at all, helps because people spend money once inside the gates, Morrison said.

Ferris, in his first year as marketing director, would like attendance to hit 300,000.

He’s been told 275,000 would be a more realistic goal.

“That’s OK. I like pie-in-the-sky,” Ferris said.

Morrison said the traveling regional manager of Fairfield, Calif.-based Butler Amusements, which has been operating carnivals throughout California and Oregon this summer, has told him the fair season has been going well.

“I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing about the fair industry so far,” Morrison said.

What’s new?

So what will fairgoers notice that’s new about the fair this year?

The featured exhibit, which last year involved aliens, will be “The Old Firehouse,” a historical exhibit featuring vintage trucks and equipment, Morrison said.

Morrison said the firefighting theme was chosen to honor the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and he’s received calls from firefighters all over the region who want to arrange a trip to the fair.

The fair has also latched onto the coupon craze, and Ferris arranged for 10 smaller nonprofit organizations to each get a day at the fair to put up a display alongside a “Catch a Coupon” booth. Fairgoers can pay $5 for 30 seconds in the booth, where they will nab as many swirling coupons as possible. The nonprofit organization will get half of the day’s proceeds.

Morrison has also added to the entertainment offered at the grandstands: a First Friday Country Music Fest and a Truck Pull, in which two trucks race a short distance while pulling a heavy weight.

Five concerts — the Beach Boys, REO Speedwagon, Dierks Bentley, Three Days Grace and a double-billing of Motley Crue and Poison — will be at the Sleep Country Amphitheater.

Food options have once again expanded, and people not in the mood for a hamburger can try a Philly cheesesteak or seafood.

Speaking of burgers, the venerable Onionaire burger stand? Gone.

Take a moment. Feel the loss.

And know that at least two vendors are stepping in to fill the void.

The Smokehouse advertises “charbroiled burgers smothered in sweet fried onions” while Boppin’ Bo’s Grill boasts “famous bodacious onion burgers.”

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com or 360-735-4508.