Artisan life threatened by potential Fairgrounds move

To Raven Moon, December means business.

Dressed head to foot in purple, the petite artisan loads up his garden cart with spirit shakers and hits the road, en-route from his home in the Jefferson Westside neighborhood to the Saturday Market’s Holiday Market at the Lane County Fairgrounds.

It’s here Moon earns his living by selling mythical creatures, made from a fine wood powder like paper maché and decorated with gemstones, that he made in a 12-foot by 20-foot studio in his backyard.

“I haven’t been getting rich, though it’s been really good over the years,” Moon says, revealing a few missing teeth. Most spirit shakers cost $10, though his most expensive is a beach ball sized toad for $200. He also sells gemulets, gemstone amulets based around astrological signs, at a few stores around town and just started collecting a $500 Social Security check every month.

Moon estimates he does as much business in the 14 days of the Holiday Market as he does during the entire year at Saturday Market, which he’s sold at for 24 years.

But Moon’s blessed holiday art life may be coming to an end. Right now, Lane County commissioners are considering selling the Fairgrounds at West 13th Avenue and Jefferson Street to purchase new property just outside of town.

This spells trouble for the Holiday Market, but the buildings do need extensive repair. The ice rink’s frost build-up could crack at any moment and the Exposition Hall has a visibly damaged roof.

The new property is at the intersection of Highway 99 and Beltline Road near the Eugene City Airport.

“This property, known as the Golden Gates Property, requires us to pay a multi-hundred thousand dollar payment, just to maintain the option to buy the property,” Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson wrote in an e-mail. He doubts the board would vote to move the Fairgrounds.

But funding the repairs to the Fairgrounds will be also be costly. Sorenson says two sources of funding are available: revenue bonds and increasing visitor tax revenue.

Revenue bonds are bonds payable only through specified revenues only, usually the facility for which the bond was originally issued, according to Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Money made by the use of the Fairgrounds would pay for the bond, Sorenson says.

The second option, increasing the share of visitor tax revenue allocated to the Fairgrounds, would mean cutting funding to other programs that also depend on this source, he says, such as the Lane County Historical Museum and the tourism grant program.

Sorenson says using general funds, such as property taxes, has already been rejected.

Advocates for the move suggest selling the current property to developers to fund the move. Sorenson says this would make the city too dense, be too expensive and cause a financial failure.

Instead, he hopes the board will look for new opportunities at the current site, such as year round farmers markets, urban agriculture, youth and adult amateur sports facilities and a restaurant near Amazon creek.

The Fairgrounds annual schedule is packed full already, with events like the Lane County Fair, the Emerald Valley Indoor BMX and the Holiday Market. The Holiday Market has called the Fairgrounds home for the past 23 years, says Kim Still, Market manager. “It’s really the only place in town that’s large enough with enough parking and facilities, that we can rent for six weeks without having to move,” Still says.

The Holiday Market started in 1986 when the Old Oregon Christmas Faire, also held at the Fairgrounds, closed down. The Saturday Market organizers saw it as a great opportunity to move their Eugene staple indoors.

“At any given Market moment you can find babies, grannies, teens, people in suits, people in fluorescent fishnets and Mohawks, alter abled folks, folks with mental disabilities and their care takers, street musicians, street people, families, gawking out of towners and any other classification you can think of,” Still says.

If the Fairgrounds were to move, Still says organizers would brainstorm a plan of attack. For the meantime, dressing the Exposition Hall as best they can is most important.

Although Market organizers don’t track the information, Still estimates more than half use their Market sales to supplement other incomes.

David Church does just that.

Church has a nine-to-five job as a quality manager for Far West Steel Fabrication, where he is “basically a policeman, checking other people’s work,” he says. Church started making recycled copper jewelry 13 years ago for supplemental income before retirement, which he says will happen in four or five years.

“Here, I’m in complete control,” he says. “It’s very satisfying.”

Church’s first projects were pins and pendants made by melting and hammering copper. Achy wrists forced him to change his merchandise to bracelets, barrettes, necklaces and candle holders, which he can make with just his fingers. Church’s jewelry cost $5 to $65 and he sells his most expensive items during the holiday season as gifts, he says.

“I make most my money between 2 and 4, at the end of the day after everyone’s looked around at everything,” he says.

Church is happy to provide copper jewelry to people who believe in its therapeutic benefits. “It opens the capillaries and makes the joints feel better,” he says. “People who believe in this stuff wear it religiously.”

For Church, the Market is a mental health break. “It’s relaxing and invigorating to have people admire what I do, even if they don’t buy it,” Church says. “It’s good for my state of mind.”

Church says his participation in the Holiday Market if it were to move to north Bethel would be difficult. He lives just three blocks from the Fairgrounds and, like Moon, walks to the Holiday Market. He doubts the county will move the Fairgrounds though. “It get us year round and there’s always something going on,” he says. “It’s not a good thing to sell the land.”

It’s selfish, Moon says, but he also hopes the Fairgrounds doesn’t move. He gave up his car 10 years ago because, he says, it polluted and upkeep was expensive. “[The Fairgrounds] is just such a resource and so convenient and such a great thing to have,” he says. After a long day, with money in his fanny pack, Moon packs his garden cart with unsold spirit shakers and cycles off into the dark.

“I really love what I do and I’m really happy to be creative and earn my living through my art,” Moon says. “It’s a blessing.”

Sidebar 1:

Sidebar 2: Can the Ice Center fund necessary repairs?

The Ice Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Dec. 23 and possibly its last.

A $1 million repair to the ice rink to fix a frost build-up under the slab would need to be funded by the Lane County, which is already stretching it’s budget.

The systems necessary to make the ice need replaced also, says Cindy Jensen, Ice Center manager and skating director.

“We usually go down one month every summer to attend to ice maintenance, but this year we are going down at the end of March for five months to assess the condition of the slab,” Jensen wrote in an e-mail. “We will come up in September and go to seasonal operations for the foreseeable future.”

The Ice Center makes a small profit during hockey season, which runs October to March but the Center’s programs don’t cover operation costs during the rest of the year, Jensen says.

“We are required to operate out of our earnings, which is a challenge because the revenue during the busy months does not cover our losses in the slow months,” Jensen says. The Ice Center shares funding from visitor tax revenue with the Lane Events Center to stay afloat.

The county has proposed a revenue bond to fund repairs to the Fairgrounds, which would mean profits made at the Fairgrounds would pay for the bond.

The Ice Center is home to the Eugene Generals, a Junior A team and Oregon Ducks hockey, the current PAC 8 champions. The Center also hosts hockey, figure skating and speed skating lessons and drop-in sessions.

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