Fairgrounds, events centers getting creative amid pandemic

For fairgrounds and events centers that have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, marketing staffs and managers have been looking at new streams of revenue.

Posted: May 21, 2020 11:56 AM
Updated: May 21, 2020 4:12 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- The cancellation of county fairs across the state was no doubt a difficult decision for many. But now fairgrounds like the Lane Events Center are seeing the full impact of COVID-19 as it isn't just the county fairs that are closing up shop.

"We're looking at this huge loss of income throughout the summer when I'd be having weddings and quinceaneras," said Benton County Fairgrounds manager Lynne McKee. "We have 1,200 events a year in our buildings. When those go away, what's our new business model?"

The cancellation of events big and small has forced fairgrounds to rethink things and -- as Rachel Bivens at Lane County Events Center said -- get creative.

"There's always periods of time throughout any year even when this is not going on when we have low occupancy," said Bivens, the marketing director. "So we're taking advantage of time to be creative. look at different kinds of events we have. Working with our facility and our staff and the skills we have right now." 

"My entertainers and my service providers, this is their livelihood," McKee added. "And with the fairs canceled, you just wiped out their livelihood."

But there is a reason for some long term optimism.

"Any tough situation can bring about creativity and that's what it's done for our staff and our partners and our clients," says Bivens. "We're taking another look at everything we do."

As just about every county fair has been canceled for 2020 the question now turns to other events in the fall, the winter and beyond as to when the parking lots will be filled with cars, vendors and people again.

"Do you have a drive-in concert?" said McKee. "Do we have...California has food fair Friday where people come and get their corn dogs and their rabbit ears and so we're looking at drive through options."

With the details of Gov. Kate Brown's second phase of reopening still murky, fairground managers and marketers are using the time to re-evaluate.

"We are looking to create additional events on our own," Bivens mentions. "Putting our planner brains to good use and coming up with some new ways to utilize the facilities in underutilized times." 

For now, like most things however, it is truly a waiting game. 

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