By ELLYN PAK
The Orange County Register
COSTA MESA A group of fair concessionaires and event promoters are working to drum up support to oppose the sale of the fairgrounds.
A petition is being circulated to attempt to save the future of the site, which the state is selling to help close a massive budget gap. Supporters are also seeking more information about how the fairgrounds would be run if a nonprofit – formed last week – purchased the 190-acre site.
Nearly two dozens fair vendors and fairgrounds promoters gathered in front of Costa Mesa City Hall Monday afternoon questioning how a nonprofit could take on the task, and perhaps debt, to buy the grounds.
“It just doesn’t smell or look or feel right,” said Mike Coffee, a third-generation concessionaire at the OC Fair. “I’m trying to keep the public from being in the dark about what’s going on. This issue is way beyond the vendors. Do the citizens have options if this is shoved on them?”
The OC Fair and Event Center Foundation, which was formed last week and linked to the Fair Board, is considering putting in a bid for the property, said Dick Ackerman, former state senator who is counsel for the foundation.
The Fair Board, along with city and county officials, passed a resolution supporting the sale of the land to a nonprofit through a resolution. The action preceded the Legislature’s vote to sell the property a few weeks ago and the formation of the foundation last week.
Board members have said that on too many occasions the state has eyed the property to put up for sale, and the purchase of the fairgrounds by a nonprofit would enable local control of the site. Officials have said if purchased, the fairgrounds would be kept as-is with the fair and hundreds of events intact.
Last week, more than a dozen vendors spoke to board members about their concerns of the sale of the fairgrounds and said they sought transparency in the process.
Memory Bartlett, a promoter for Extreme Motorsports, which has been at the fairgrounds for eight years, said events held throughout the year are in limbo because of the board’s inability to lock in long-term contracts that may encumber the sale of the site.
Promoters, who are unable to sell shows ahead of time, are not guaranteed a spot on the grounds for next spring, Bartlett said.
Other longtime concessionaires questioned whether any entity would transform the property and end the fair’s run in Costa Mesa or if a nonprofit entity would take on a load of debt to buy the grounds and increase the vendors’ rents.
Some vendors speculated the move was intended to avoid public disclosure rules and limits on perks received by fair board members. Last year, board officials came under fire when it was revealed that they had over time given themselves thousands of free concert tickets while the music series lost money.
A request for bids is expected to go out within two months, according to state officials. The state expects a 60- to 90-day time frame for proposals to be submitted.