Washington County breaks ground for Event Center
Half a century after a plan for it was first conceived, Washington County officials broke ground Tuesday on a multimillion-dollar, multipurpose Event Center at the fairgrounds in Hillsboro.
The 89,000-square-foot building, scheduled for completion in 2020, will provide exhibition space, concessions and restrooms for the annual county fair.
But the $46 million building also will be the centerpiece of a revitalized fair complex that can accommodate conferences, consumer and trade shows, corporate meetings and seminars, and a range of community uses throughout the year.
Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway said that with an unemployment rate at record lows — it was 3.1 percent in August, less than the statewide average of 3.8 percent — it is the right time for Washington County to proceed.
"We have gone without a large venue in this area for far too long," he said.
"Building this Event Center will help us keep that (economic) momentum, help keep business in Washington County — and it will showcase the best of Hillsboro and Washington County."
Washington County ranked eighth overall in Oregon in the 2012 Census of Agriculture — fourth in the value of crops, including nursery stock, and 24th in livestock and poultry.
But it also is home to the Oregon operations of Intel, a California-based chipmaker that is Oregon's largest private employer, and numerous other high tech companies. The county also has Oregon's most diverse population.
"Although the traditional use of a fairgrounds building has been agriculture … I also want to point out that fair exhibitions are really a reflection of the community," said Andy Duyck, the county board chairman who is completing 24 years on the board.
"Our community has been agricultural, but it has been an evolving community. It is also very diverse in its ethnicity, its technology base, and its desire not only to entertain but to educate. With this groundbreaking today, none of that will change."
Duyck, who grew up on his parents' farm outside Hillsboro, said a 1969 plan called for a fair building of 300 feet by 300 feet — about the size of the building now planned — at an estimated cost of $1 million. "Do you think we could put this up for $1 million today?" he said as the audience laughed.
William Silva, who grew up in Washington County, is the preconstruction manager for Swinerton Builders, the Portland firm that will be the general contractor and construction manager for the project.
"Many (residents) will benefit from memories made here as the Event Center meets the needs of a wider community as it transitions into the future," he sad.
Washington County is the major contributor to the $46 million project, using money from lodging taxes and Gain Share, state payments that offset county property tax losses from breaks granted for investments of $100 million or more.
Neither is subject to voter approval.
"For generations to come, this facility will signify courageous leadership that recognized a need, developed a plan and collaborated to finance an important asset for our community," said Deanna Palm, president of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce.
Palm said visitor spending in Washington County amounted to $697 million in 2017, and generated 8,600 direct jobs and $16.8 million in government revenues — all of that without a major conference center.
Hillsboro will contribute $8 million, also from lodging taxes, and the Washington County Visitors Association contributed $1 million in the form of an oversized check presented by board chairman Dan Murphy.
The Event Center will be a short walk from TriMet's light-rail station, which also serves Hillsboro Airport to the north. MAX Blue Line already stops there on the way to Hillsboro's Hatfield Government Center; an extension of Red Line service there is being considered for 2021.
Callaway said credit should go to past Hillsboro mayors and councils, including Shirley Huffman, who died on July 1 at age 89. When she was mayor from 1985 to 1993, Huffman advocated a westside light-rail line that went all the way to Hillsboro, instead of stopping in Beaverton. The completed westside Blue Line was opened in 1998.
"Without her vision and hard work, we would not have families and visitors get off at this fairgrounds station and enjoy all the events that occur here," Callaway said.
Steve Mileham, managing principal for LRS Architects in Portland, said the design of the Event Center incorporates many elements. Among them: Wood and cross-laminated timber to symbolize the past and future, a butterfly-shaped roof to symbolize aviation and the Coast Range, and steel and glass to symbolize high technology.
"Many people have had a role in creating, inspiring, designing, supporting and promoting a vision. Together we had a vision," Mileham said. "We gave that vision form and let it take wing to the point where we are at today. Now it is time to fly."
By Peter Wong
Follow us on Twitter