Lewis County to dissolve PDA

By Amy Emerson
The Chronicle


Lewis County, WA - Monday, the Lewis County Commission announced its decision to dissolve the Southwest Washington Public Development Authority by the end of 2003.

Reasons cited for ending the PDA are conflicts of interest and a need to reduce the county’s budget, reported the commissioners.

The Southwest Washington PDA is the organization responsible for creating revenue for the maintenance of the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds in Chehalis.

The PDA received much news coverage over the past two years as it worked to create a theme park or some other unspecified type of tourist attraction near Winlock, from which the revenue would be used to maintain the fairgrounds and possibly lead to a $53 million upgrade.

Negotiations with Spain-based Civis Project Development over a multimillion-dollar theme park called Skyland ended around this time last year. The PDA then formed a partnership with the Lacey-based Sovran Development Group, which is currently working on developing new downtowns for both Winlock and Napavine, as well as an industrial park in Napavine.

The PDA’s primary involvement with Sovran was, the PDA hoped, to bring some sort of tourist attraction to Sovran’s development in Winlock. Sovran has always maintained it will continue with its Lewis County projects whether or not the PDA does spur the development of a Winlock tourist attraction.

The possibility of a PDA-backed tourist attraction in Winlock no longer exists. County commissioners will spend the next year limiting the PDA’s duties, and ultimately putting an end to the group by this time next year.
Dwight Butt, executive director of the PDA, was unavailable for comment today as he is out of town until Thursday, his staff said.

A letter sent Monday to the PDA from the commissioners stated that the proposed project development in the Winlock area would put the commissioners in a “difficult situation.”

This is because the commissioners would be called up to “make land use decisions associated with the proposed project.” The commissioners noted that at the same time, the land use decisions would “directly impact the financial future” of the PDA, and “indirectly, the county’s current and future financial commitments.”

“There is clearly a conflict of interest there,” Lewis County Commissioner Dennis Hadaller told The Chronicle Monday night.
Hadaller said the other issue of concern was the expense of maintaining the PDA.

In previous years, the county funded the PDA with about $250,000. This included about $80,000 for Butt’s salary. Recently, the commissioners decided to reduce PDA funding to $171,855.

“The PDA was supposed to create revenue to maintain the fairgrounds, and so far that hasn’t happened,” said Hadaller. “And during a time when the county is having to cut back, we chose to end the PDA instead of cut services in other places.”

Regarding the future of the fairgrounds, Hadaller said there will still be a fair, and the county is “open to consider any program or proposition to maintain the grounds.”

Hadaller added that the Southwest Washington Fair has been a money-maker.

“So far, though, the details about maintaining the grounds without the PDA have not been figured out,” he said.
Another issue the commissioners will consider is the $155,000 loan given by the county to the PDA to purchase options on property in Winlock for the Skyland theme park.

The PDA let the property options expire last year when it terminated negotiations with Civis Project Management.
However, the PDA had repeatedly said it had every intent of repaying the loan, most likely with money earned in potential future tourist and entertainment projects that will now not happen.

Said PDA board member Michael Mittge, “I think we were proceeding toward that end (a money-making tourist project), but big projects don’t happen overnight.”

“The PDA’s goal was to make enough income to put an end to taxpayers subsidizing the fairgrounds,” he said.
The PDA once sponsored events such as Oktoberfest to increase its revenue, but then determined that Lewis County did not have the population to support large profitable events.

The organization saw finding a developer for a “major tourists attraction” in Winlock as a way to raise money to improve the fair.

Had a Winlock venture been as successful as the PDA thought possible, it believed it would have been possible to generate the non-taxpayer revenue to make dramatic improvements to the fairgrounds.

The PDA had devised plans for a possible $53 million renovation of the grounds, including an equestrian center, an amphitheater, and an area that would be able to host numerous events, including ice hockey.

The organization maintained that such improvements could draw visitors from outside the Lewis County area.
“But, now we will be unable to proceed towards any of those goals,” said Mittge. “Over the next year, it appears our efforts will be assisting the county in the transition to fair maintenance without the PDA.”
Amy Emerson covers energy, business and economic issues for The Chronicle. She may be reached by telephoning 807-8231.


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