MONROE — It draws the biggest crowds of any event in Snohomish County.
Yet more than a year has passed without anybody being appointed full-time manager for the Evergreen State Fair, or for the fairgrounds that host the annual 12-day extravaganza.
Leaving such a large job unfilled has caused concern among some County Council members. The council even put money aside from this year’s parks budget to encourage a new hire.
“We have one of the few profitable fairs in the country,” County Councilman Dave Somers said. “We want to make sure we keep it that way. It’s really a gem.”
Instead of hiring one person to manage the fair, parks director Tom Teigen has proposed dividing the job into two. Teigen wants his deputy parks director, Hal Gausman, to continue managing the fairgrounds. That would be in addition to Gausman’s other duties overseeing the entire county parks system. Gausman has served as interim fairgrounds manager since the previous manager left in September 2010.
A separate employee, to be hired in the near future, would specialize in marketing, tourism and sponsorships. Those are skills Teigen said he was unable to find in other fairgrounds manager candidates he interviewed.
“We believe that for about $70,000 in this economy we can get a very good person who’s all about communication, sponsorship and promotion and can work with the tourism bureau folks,” Teigen told the council last week.
Somers and other council members said Teigen’s plan eases their concerns, but doesn’t put them to rest entirely. They speak highly of Gausman’s skills, but worry he’s spread too thin.
“You just don’t want to put in a director and overwhelm him with more tasks than he’s able to do,” Councilman John Koster said. “I thought the fair went well last year, but I think they were scrambling a little bit.”
The county runs the fair as a financially self-sustaining event. The 2011 fair did well enough to generate about $400,000 in operating surplus, a near-record, Gausman said. A more in-depth report is expected in February.
The financial success of the 2011 fair owes largely to a exceptionally nice stretch of sunny days and a good selection of music acts, Gausman said.
“We had probably the best weather ever at the fair,” he said.
The job involves much more than just the annual fair, though. For the past several years, county leaders have tried to put the fairgrounds to more consistent work throughout the year.
They’ve had some success, with gun shows, 4-H programs and equestrian events. There also have been kickboxing matches and talk of setting up a BMX track. A new $3.4 million multipurpose building that opened last year should be able to accommodate these events and others.
The fairgrounds are in unincorporated Snohomish County, on U.S. 2 next door to the city of Monroe. When the fair does well, so does the city.
The city’s economic development manager, Jeff Sax, applauded the park department’s efforts to liven up the fairgrounds beyond the dozen days of the fair in August and September.
“For the other 353 days, the fair is underutilized and I think that this is what Tom (Teigen) is seeing,” Sax said.
Sax, a former county councilman, said he appreciates that the council may want to protect the fairgrounds’ agrarian feel.
“They don’t want to see the Evergreen State Fair turn more commercial, like the Puyallup Fair,” he said.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.