Event could be permanent fixture in Hillsboro

For those who wonder what it would have been like to live in the 16th century, here’s your chance to get into a time machine and have a look. Starting this summer, Hillsboro will host an annual Oregon Renaissance Festival at the Washington County Fair Complex in Hillsboro. by: COURTESY PHOTO - The Oregon Renaissance Festival will offer Hillsboro residents the chance to experience a slice of life in the 16th century.

For six weekends — the first event will take place on Aug. 24 — a small slice of Hillsboro will be transformed into a living, breathing 16th century European village, complete with fair maidens, wandering minstrels and, perhaps most intriguing, live daily jousting tournaments.

Wanda Carr, manager of Minneapolis-based Renaissance Touring Co., LLC, said those attending the shows should be prepared for something special.

“This is an extremely interactive and entertaining experience,” Carr said. “There is a lot of drama and action. It’s a fun getaway for a day.”

It took almost seven years to put everything together, but Washington County will now enjoy the visibility and extra revenue this type of festival can bring. Because the fair complex, located on Northeast 34th Avenue, is operated by Washington County, it will receive a base rent of $71,500, as well as the opportunity to double that revenue based on its share of parking fees and alcohol sales.

Carr was previously affiliated with a company that operates permanent Renaissance fair sites in Arizona and North Carolina. In 2006, the company approached Washington County officials about setting up a 16th century village on 15 acres of fairgrounds property.

When Washington County officials balked at the idea of granting a 30-year lease of prime fairground space, the company shopped the idea to officials in Linn County and later, Puyallup, Wash. When those proposals also fell flat, the company came back to Washington County, hoping to consider new ideas. Once Renaissance Touring Co. agreed to a temporary village rather than building permanent structures, a plan came together relatively quickly.

Deanna Palm, director of the Greater Hillsboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said she was involved in some of the early discussions that resulted in bringing the festival to Hillsboro. In fact, she was so interested she decided to go to Gold Canyon, Ariz., to get a first-hand look at the company’s Southwest operation. She came back impressed.

“I had to go to Arizona to see what it was like,” Palm explained. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before or imagined. It definitely has a following, and it’s definitely a draw. It’s kind of a historical learning experience, and very authentic.”

The deal is expected to bring jobs to the community as well. Carr estimated that more than 500 people will be needed to operate the festival, including the actors and actresses as well as stagehands, artisans, staff, box office workers and security personnel. Many of those will be hired locally.

“It will be a mix of local and traveling folks,” Carr said. “We’ll be holding a jobs fair in June to invite people to come out for those positions.”

Palm added that a professional cast of actors and actresses travels for the Renaissance events, and given the scope of the production, “there are a lot of opportunities for extras.”

In all, there will be 13 event days, beginning Aug. 24 and continuing through Sept. 29. Within that time frame, the festivals will be held each Saturday and Sunday, as well as on the Labor Day. The Oregon Renaissance Festival will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on those days, rain or shine.

Palm believes this type of event is a natural for Hillsboro.

“We’re a growing area with baseball and other things happening, and this really lends itself to family entertainment,” she explained. “This is exciting, and great news for Hillsboro.”

Carr said Hillsboro was chosen because the company’s president, Robert Levine, wanted to do shows in the Portland area.

“This area seemed to be a really good fit,” explained Carr. “Where the fairgrounds are located, so close to Portland, is ideal. And to be on light rail and have good access to this site is really great.”

The company has a lease to operate 13 events this summer, but organizers are hopeful the agreement becomes permanent.

“Ideally, we’d like to be here for some time,” Carr said. “We would like this to happen every year. We’re calling it a ‘first annual’ with high hopes.”

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