County fair count slipped

But paid admissions, food and beverage sales, carnival revenues up

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Attendance at last month’s 10-day Clark County Fair was down slightly to 251,892 people, but revenues were up, Fair Manager John Morrison said Friday.

Morrison will give a detailed presentation Oct. 19 to Clark County commissioners.

Final numbers are not ready because invoices are still trickling in, but Morrison said Friday there are encouraging signs.

First, paid attendance appears to be up.

Total attendance reflects everyone who walks through a gate, as counted by clicker.

Total attendance in 2010 was 254,797, up from 2009’s 243,698 but still below the 10-year average of 266,596.

Morrison said Friday that while the 2011 total attendance of 251,892 was down 1.1 percent from 2010, paid admissions at the gate was up to $793,000 from 2010’s $775,000.

That also tells Morrison that more people paid full price instead of buying discounted tickets in advance.

Second, the people who came, whether they were exhibitors who don’t have to pay admission or full-paying fairgoers, ate and drank a lot.

Food and beverage sales were up 13 percent, Morrison said.

On a typical day at the fair, people spend $130,000 to $140,000 on food and beverages, Morrison said.

This year, on the second Saturday of the fair, the total for eats and drinks jumped to $228,000.

Third, carnival revenues were up, he said.

The county relies on the fair to turn enough profit to help sustain the fair fund, which covers expenses for the Clark County Events Center and horse arena.

The 2009 fair lost $11,000; the 2010 fair made enough money that the fair fund didn’t need a cash infusion from the county’s general fund.

Morrison said Friday that the 2011 fair was profitable, and he will have some money to help run the events center and horse arena, but it’s too soon to know whether the county will have to dip into the general fund.

Attendance at the fair has taken special significance this year in light of a proposed admissions tax, which could add 5 percent to the cost of a ticket.

The county’s working on a proposal to help bring the Yakima Bears to Vancouver to play at a new stadium at Clark College. Under the current proposal, revenues from the tax — which would also be levied on movie tickets and tickets to the Sleep Country Amphitheater — would cover 40 percent of $22.7 million in capital costs.

Commissioner Marc Boldt, whose vote Commissioner Steve Stuart needs to pass the admissions tax, said earlier this week he didn’t know if he would support the tax if he thought it would significantly deter people from going to the fair.

Boldt said he wants to hear more information from Morrison and Justin Kobluk, executive director of the Fairgrounds Site Management Group.

Kobluk earlier wrote in a report that an admissions tax could end up hurting the county if it drives down fair ticket sales. Plus, a tax on concerts at the privately owned Sleep Country Amphitheater could hurt a venue that has fallen so short of estimated revenues that county commissioners have cut lease payments.

Since Boldt’s remarks about the tax, a public hearing that had been scheduled for next week was postponed indefinitely.

On Wednesday, Stuart told fellow commissioners Boldt and Tom Mielke — who has said he won’t support the tax without a public vote — that the team and its supporters want more time to work on the proposal before moving forward to a public hearing on the admissions tax.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.