“The fair IS happening!” So say Kaitlyn Coleman and Michelle Wills, the two new smiling faces in the office at the Event Center on the Beach. Coleman is the Event Center manager and Wills is the office manager. Both have been on the job just two weeks, but have been quite busy getting things done while developing clear ideas about their long-term goals.
They already have the carnival and the Bulls and Barrels (mini-rodeo) contracts in place. They are still working on getting all of the entertainers lined up, but have some of them booked.
“Our 4-H is doing great. All of the superintendents for displays, like fiber art, creative arts and floral are amazing superstars,” Coleman said. “They’ve got it all under control, and everything is going as planned. It’s going good. We’re in a whirlwind of crazy, but it’s happening.”
The dates for this year’s fair are Tuesday, July 28 through Saturday, Aug. 1. The theme will be “Surfers, Sand and Everything Land.”
“I was born and raised here, and I grew up doing 4-H and being involved with the fairgrounds for a really long time,” Coleman said. Her family was also involved with 4-H and the fair as volunteers, and her grandmother was one of the ‘court princesses.’
“I have a lot of history and care about this place,” she said. “I’m here raising my family now. I remember the awe that always inspired me with the fair. So I want to be part of turning it back around and making it everything I remember it being — and then some.”
“I’ve got a lot of plans and fun things that we want to make happen, but we know it’s going to take time,” Coleman said. “There are steps, and we’re going to need to remind the community to have patience with us and help us get there. It’s not going to be an overnight fix, but we have a lot of hope for this place.”
“Some of the things that have been missing, for me, over the last few years, are a sense of community and involvement. When I came last year, especially, it just felt empty and sad. It didn’t feel like people had activities to be involved with that made them want to stay and hang out.
“Some of our plans this year are going to be focused on that and bringing back the ‘reminiscent’ fair — throwback activities like three-legged races and cook-offs,” Coleman said.
They are also planning a dunk tank. She wants to shift the focus from just things you can buy at the fair, to bringing in educational activities and involvement. Kind of bringing back what “Fair” is.
“Retro-vintage, and with those silly games,” Wills said. “That’s the best part of my childhood was going to the county fairs. I grew up in a town about the size of this one.”
“Fair for me was hanging out all day, every day,” Coleman said, “Checking out the animals, doing the activities, the rides, watching the shows, the games, being there, being involved, all the noise, all the excitement, all the craziness, the food.
“Over the last several years, there’s been a lot of repetitiveness,” she said. “We’re going to have more food vendors. While certain things need to be there every year, we totally get that, we can cycle in some new things that haven’t been here or we haven’t seen in a while.”
They are looking into a hypnotist, or family comedy-hypnotist show, and a reptile show with tortoises, snakes and alligators.
Coleman is looking for shows with activities that get people involved “where people don’t just sit, but they bring you on the stage and make you think.”
Coleman wants to better utilize the community for these activities.
“We’ve got a lot of amazing people here with different businesses, different knowledge, and we need to make sure they have the accessibility to bring in booths,” she said. “I’ve heard from people in the past that financially, the prices that were asked for were out of reach for a local small business.
“We want to reach out to those businesses and make the community feel involved again because that’s what a county fair is — it’s community,” Coleman said. “That’s important to me.”
“My favorite thing I learned about Michelle is she’s from a small town,” Coleman said. “She understands what community means — that’s important for this office. “This whole venue is a community space and about making events and memories for our community.”
While the fair is the biggest event of the year, the Event Center will have more community events throughout the year.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen on the grounds before some of it can happen, including some updates to buildings.”
The county and the city are working with the Event Center and “partnering to use some available transient lodging tax (TLT) funds to do some capital improvements on the grounds so we can bring some of those events,” Coleman said. “Our goals eventually are to have at least one decent-sized event a month, supported by smaller community events. I would like to bring at least one really big event each year besides the fair, whether it be music or something else to pull in people statewide and help support tourism.”
Coleman is interested in creating more partnerships within the community, like happened last year when Brewfest was tied in with windsurfing events, creating a larger event than the two individual activities.
“I’d like to see things like the circus, music, rodeos, and bring more of that throughout the year,” she said. “I want to bring comedy shows. Some of them can be smaller and more local, but it doesn’t hurt to bring in a big name once in a while.”
Coastal Legends is one big event already in the works, coming up Feb. 28-29. The concert on Feb. 29 is billed as outlaw country music, featuring headliner Benton Blount, who found fame on the show “America’s Got Talent.”
“Hopefully it will be a great show. I don’t know a whole lot about it, but it seems like good artists and fun activities,” Coleman said. “I think it’s going to be great for the community. It’s an awesome event to bring to the community, and everyone loves music.”
Tickets are available at Interior Coverups in Gold Beach and at the Great American Smokehouse in Harbor. Tickets can also be purchased online at https://wcadventure.com.
“Our first steps are coming in here, we’re brand new, and kind of learning as we go.” Coleman said. “We’re really dependent on our volunteers that have been here awhile and our maintenance guys who know a lot about the area and our facilities. We are definitely going to be dependent on our community to step up and know that we’re making changes and support us in that, whether through volunteering or financial sponsorships.
“Our budget is not huge but we have big plans. That’s going to take partnership throughout the community to make some of these things happen. Change is coming but not overnight.”
Coleman has a bachelor’s degree in interior design and a master’s degree in sports management. Coleman thinks aesthetics are important for people who are thinking about renting spaces for events. Her design background will also help her understand architectural plans for future building projects on the grounds. She will apply her management education, as well, towards organizing events.
Wills has been an administrator and office manager over the majority of her career, “which is going to be really helpful keeping all this organized,” Coleman said as she gestured towards shelf after shelf of records.