OUR VIEW: Events put fairgrounds in spotlight

By Observer editorial June 27, 2014 08:28 am

After years trying to find signature events, with many promising ideas starting with a bang and fizzling like a dud firecracker, La Grande has suddenly found two that could have staying power.

Last weekend’s first Eastern Oregon Beer Festival drew upward of 600 people to the Union County Fairgrounds. And the SolWest Fair, which starts today and runs through Sunday at the fairgrounds, promoting renewable energy and sustainable living, is expected to draw many more.

The Union County Fair Association deserves credit for helping make these events a success. The fairgrounds are more than just a ragtag collection of buildings on the north edge of Interstate 84. They are more than just a place to showcase the best cattle, sheep, pigs and pickled beets in the county.

The fairgrounds are getting a facelift to become more attractive to other events. They are undergoing numerous improvements, including adding 14 RV spaces with electric and water hookups and heating and air conditioning in the 4-H building.

Profits generated from these big events should help the fairgrounds become a more appealing destination, especially when 15,000 people or so go through the gates for the Union County Fair, which this year will run July 30 through Aug. 2.

Developing the beer festival and attracting the SolWest Fair to town after 15 years in John Day is no doubt a significant breakthrough.

Both events contribute to community vitality. The beer fest brought people to town from a wide area, and this weekend’s SolWest Fair will do the same, with reasonable admission fees and 50 workshops to attend, as well as some top-notch live music.

Such events may not lead to regional economic stability. But there is no denying many people will come from out of town and contribute to the local economy. Every dollar spent here has a multiplying effect.

The long-term implications of having the Eastern Oregon Beer Festival and the SolWest Fair in town each year is showing that La Grande can be an enticing location for big events, and as the hub of Northeast Oregon, is well located to do just that. 

The window of opportunity may open for other events at the fairgrounds. It is important that we pursue such opportunities that will make La Grande a more vibrant place to live and visit.