Lewis County to dissolve PDA
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
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
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
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
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
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.