Expanding amenities at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center – specifically to the agricultural buildings – will bring in more business and shows to the fairgrounds.
That was the word from Rich Hartzell, fair director, to Spokane County commissioners at Tuesday’s CEO briefing.
Hartzell was on hand to specifically lay out what he wanted to see improved to the fairgrounds and how the work will put more “heads in beds” at local hotels. It’s knowledge, according to Commissioner Mark Richard, the commissioners will need when they go before Public Facilities District board members and discuss why fairground improvements should be a part of proposed ballot question to expand the existing Spokane Convention Center and add seats to the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
“I just think the more articulate we can be, the better,” Richard said.
The PFD board – which is in charge of the arena and convention center – is seeking $65 million in bonds in order to “stay competitive” and “create jobs,” according to campaign literature. The ballot question is asking voters to extend the existing one-tenth of 1 cent sales tax plus a 2-percent tax on hotel room stays to the year 2043. The existing tax is set to expire in 2033.
But since the county’s property tax authority will be used to back the bond sale – should voters say yes – the commissioners and fair director have considered tacking on their own $2.8 million in improvements to the ag buildings, which lack concession areas that are present in the main exhibit hall.
“We host many events at the same time,” Hartzell told the commissioners. The plan is to convert an existing restroom area to concessions during busy times in order to have bathrooms, food service and ATMs available to the ag buildings so patrons will not have to walk back to the main exhibition hall.
“A lot of people just decide to go home rather than fight back through the crowds,” Hartzell said.
He added that – especially during the late winter and early spring months – the fairgrounds is booked every weekend and sometimes business is turned away because exhibitors are looking for the extra amenities.
“We would start generating revenue right away,” Hartzell said. “We host a lot of similar events (in the agriculture buildings), they’re just smaller.”
Hatzell said that a recent quilt show at the fairgrounds attracted busloads of attendees from Canada, and the parking areas of the gun shows are filled with cars with out-of-state license plates.
“(The improvements) will help make us just that much more of a destination,” he said.