Annual festival's proposed contract still needs approval from top officials

Washington County's Fair Board is expected to ask the Board of County Commissioners Wednesday night to review and approve a new contract for a Renaissance fair at the county fairgrounds.

The board meets at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the county fairgrounds main exhibit hall-south, 873 N.E. 34th Ave., Hillsboro. The Renaissance fair proposal is one of several items on the board's agenda.

If the board agrees to send the proposal to the county commissioners, it also would open the door to review of the plan by a 15- to 20-member 'Fairgrounds Revitalization Task Force' being formed to discuss the festival and other changes to the fair facilties.

Members of the task force have not been selected. County officials could put the group together in the next couple of weeks, with a review of the Renaissance fair proposal as its first task.

County commissioners will have the final say on the proposal, said Don Hillman, Washington County Fair Complex executive director. Commissioners would be expected to negotiate and approve any long-term deal to bring a Renaissance festival to the fairgrounds, he said.

'We do not have a contract yet,' Hillman said.

'The staff work is done, from the standpoint of doing our due diligence to look into the company and the proposal, see how it operates its' two current festivals, conducting the initial discussion on the lease terms and so on. Hanging on to the proposed project any longer in our office doesn't serve any real purpose, since the final decision has to come from the board of commissioners.'

Fairgrounds officials and Fair Board members have talked with representatives of Oregon Renaissance Festival Inc. since September about plans to locate an extravagent event on a large part of the fairgrounds for nearly two months each summer beginning in July 2008.

Oregon Renaissance Festival is part of the Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace group that organizes similar fairs in Arizona and North Carolina. The events feature period music, artwork, food and amusement rides. They also feature lords, ladies, knights, knaves, jesters, jousters and troubadors who attend in costume and pretend it is the Renaissance.

Under the proposal, Oregon Renaissance Festival Inc. would operate a fair on about 25 acres of the facility for seven or eight consecutive weekends during the summer. The company could invest $1 million to $2 million in site improvements, such as stages, vendor booths, paths and major modifications to the main exhibit hall and arena.

It could take about six months to make the improvements and build fair facilities once the contract is approved.

When the Renaissance festival proposal surfaced last fall, county officials said it could be a boost to the fairgrounds. They said the Renaissance fair could draw 10,000 to 15,000 people a day to the area and provide hundreds of new jobs. They also said the plan wouldn't involve the sale of county property, only a 20-year lease for the site, with a five-year option.

The proposal also could bring in thousands of dollars in revenue for the county, although estimates vary and have changed since the idea first surfaced.

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