In his nearly two decades as director of the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, Dan Despotopulos has seen the facility grow to hold about 400 events per year and host the largest county fair in Oregon.

Despotopulos, 64, recently announced he will retire in May after working as director of the fairgrounds since October 2000. He joined a year after the fairgrounds moved to its current location near the Redmond Airport, and he has overseen the facility as it became a major entertainment venue in Central Oregon. But he is reluctant to take any credit for the popularity of the fairgrounds.

“It wasn’t me at all,” he said. “I have a phenomenal staff.”

Despotopulos points to the booming population and tourism in Central Oregon as a main factor to the high attendance at events such as the annual Deschutes County Fair and Rodeo. The five-day fair has averaged 250,000 visitors in recent years, more than double the attendance at neighboring county fairs and just shy of the Oregon State Fair in Salem, which drew 264,945 in 2017.

“The whole area has seen changes,” he said. “I think when I first drove in to Redmond, it’s population was about 9,000 and Bend was 24,000. Housing and everything kept growing, and this place kept growing with it.”

When Despotopulos came to the fairgrounds in 2000, he remembers thinking the facility was built 20 years ahead of its time. But now the facilities are starting to need major upgrades, he said.

Top priorities for Despotopulos before he retires in May are to add to the fairground’s conference space and continue to develop plans for a vacant 140-acre property south of the fairgrounds.

Deschutes County and city of Redmond officials are helping the fairgrounds acquire the 140 acres, which are owned by the Oregon Department of State Lands, Despotopulos said.

The fairgrounds is unable to expand in other directions due to the airport, railroad and U.S. Highway 97. But to the south, the fairground would be able to build a sports complex, Despotopulos said. The sports complex would host large events for youth athletics around the region.

“This would be a perfect location for a facility like that,” he said.

With more hotels being planned near the fairgrounds, it is important to expand the conference space, Despotopulos said.

A plan is in the works to add 8,000 square feet of conference space in the existing conference centers. The addition could be complete by the end of the year or next spring.

Despotopulos will be retired by the time the county fair begins in August. This year is the 100th anniversary of the fair, and it will include historical displays of each decade at the fair dating back to 1919. Fair staffers are still borrowing pieces of fair memorabilia from residents, including old fair guides, buttons and ribbons. Those who have items to contribute can bring them or send them to the fairgrounds at 3800 SW Airport Way in Redmond. Items will be returned after the fair this year.

Despotopulos will be disappointed to miss the historic fair this year, but he said he has been busy planning the fair and will have it mostly ready by the time he retires.

“The fair this year will be exceptional,” he said. “Everything for the most part is almost done.”

Despotopulos, a native of Massachusetts, came to the fairgrounds after a career working for major ice skating shows, including the Ice ­Capades, traveling entertainment shows that featured theatrical ice skating performances.

After nearly 40 years working in the entertainment and facility management field, Despotopulos is now looking forward to retirement and spending more time with his wife of 34 years, Sue, and his son, Dustin, 31, who lives in the Bay Area.

Looking back over his career, Despotopulos said he can’t choose just one favorite memory.

“I don’t know if I have one,” he said. “There has been so much stuff over the years.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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