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Orange County Fairgrounds put on auction block

Bidders have until Jan. 8 to submit proposals for the state-owned, 150-acre property in Costa Mesa. The sale is intended to help raise cash to reduce California's budget deficit.

October 09, 2009|Tony Barboza

The Orange County Fairgrounds was placed on the auction block Thursday in an attempt to cut into the state deficit.

The state Department of General Services issued a request for proposals for the 150-acre property in Costa Mesa, giving bidders until Jan. 8 to make offers.

Earlier this year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed liquidating state properties -- including the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, San Quentin State Prison and three state-owned fairgrounds -- to raise cash to help balance the state budget. If a buyer is found, the property could be in a new owner's hands in a year, said Eric Lamoureux of the General Services Department.

The Orange County Fairgrounds is the highest-value property listed in a July 24 budget bill that authorizes the sale of state assets.

The Orange County Fair Board and Orange County Board of Supervisors each passed resolutions supporting the idea to sell the fairgrounds to a government or nonprofit agency, saying they wanted it to remain in local hands and continue to be used for a fair.

Over dinner Wednesday night at a restaurant in Newport Beach, fair board members, local politicians and attorneys signed papers to form the Orange County Fair and Event Center Foundation, which will be made up of six members from the existing fair board, two members from Costa Mesa, two members from the county and one public member elected by the board.

The foundation was formed to put together a bid but hasn't yet come up with a way to pay for it, said Kristina Dodge, chairwoman of the fair board and the new foundation.

"We don't want to see it go away, so we're there to protect, preserve, promote and enhance the fair," she said.

But the document filed Thursday shows the state is prepared for the possibility that the new owner could use the land for something other than fairs: "The state will retain the right to profit participation in the property in the event that all or a portion . . . is no longer used for fairground and event uses."

No minimum bid has been established, and the state is not required to accept any bid deemed too low. The governor's office has estimated the site could sell for $96 million to $180 million.

The sale has been opposed by fair vendors, who fear the new nonprofit's ability to keep the land from being developed.

"They have yet to show . . . how they intend on coming up with the $40-plus million to buy the place," said Chris Gaggo of Escondido, who has sold watches and clocks at the fairgrounds for nine years. "Who's to make sure it's still a fairgrounds five years from now? What city official is going to fight against the redevelopment of the property?"

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

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