Festival group reluctantly decides against using fairgrounds for summer event

Washington County's plans for a Renaissance fair next year got ye olde heave-ho last week.

Representatives of Oregon Renaissance Festival Inc. told county officials that they would pursue an offer from Linn County in the central Willamette Valley instead of waiting for Washington County officials to decide on the fair complex future.

That decision means Washington County's fairgrounds won't be used for a six-week Renaissance fair in summer 2008.

'We wanted to put the festival in Washington County, but the timeline is just not working out,' said Robert Levine of Oregon Renaissance Festival from his office in Saint Louis Park, Minn. 'We don't think we could get a deal put together in Washington County in time.'

So, the organization that also runs similar Renaissance festivals in Arizona and North Carolina will start serious discussions to put a fair on a 180-acre site in Linn County.

The decision came just days before the first meeting of a Washington County task force studying the future of the 101-acre fairgrounds.

The 15-member Fair Revitalization Task Force met Wednesday afternoon in Beaverton to begin a several-week process of looking at the fairgrounds' uses and possible new development.

Work by the task force probably wouldn't be completed in time for the Oregon Renaissance Festival group to plan for its 2008 event, Levine said. The festival group needs at least a year to line up performers, exhibitors and employees who travel the annual fair circuit, camping out and bringing the Renaissance to life in cities across the country.

'It's unfortunate,' said Philip Bransford, spokesman for the county board of commissioners. 'The county has promised to go through this clear and open process.

'We recognize that the Renaissance fair has options, and they can exercise those options. We wish them well.'

'Too many problems'

County fair complex leaders have talked since September with the Renaissance festival group about putting a possible fair on the fairgrounds. The idea was floated publicly in December with estimates that the county could earn thousands of dollars from the fair and, in return, get millions in building reconstruction and renovation.

Originally, Washington County officials said a proposed eight-week fair could bring in about $500,000. Estimates have varied about the actual revenue the event would produce for the county if it was held six consecutive weekends beginning in July.

Under the proposal, the Renaissance fair would have used about 25 acres of the county fairgrounds, closing off the area with a 6-foot-high stucco fence. Fair buildings and its arena would have been rebuilt or improved to match the event's medieval theme.

Oregon Renaissance Festival planned to spend between $1 million and $2 million on the renovations and reconstruction.

At about the same time the Renaissance fair was proposed, county officials decided to form the revitalization task force. The festival's plan also was caught up in a political tug-of-war among fair supporters who wanted to maintain the traditional event and others who saw new development as a way to increase revenue.

Levine and three other representatives of the Renaissance festival organization visited Washington and Linn counties last week, evaluating both sites. It was after that tour that Levine's group decided to begin negotiations with Linn County.

Levine said it was the uncertainty and turmoil - plus the slow pace of negotiations - that soured the Washington County deal for his group.

'There are too many problems politically,' he said. 'They don't know what they want to do with that site.'

Levine expects to reach an agreement with Linn County in about 60 days. He said that there is a '90 percent chance' a Renaissance festival will be held somewhere in Oregon next summer. It just won't be in Washington County.

'Washington County was our first choice,' Levine said. 'It was a Renaissance festival waiting to happen, that's what's so appealing.

'It would have been great. In our opinion, it was the best site for the festival.'

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