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State to sell O.C. Fairgrounds to private company

Facilities Management West's bid to pay $100 million for the Costa Mesa site is accepted. It's unclear whether the fair will still be held there.

October 21, 2010|By Mona Shadia, Los Angeles Times

The state Wednesday accepted a Newport Beach real estate company's $100-million offer for the Orange County Fairgrounds, potentially fulfilling the governor's directive to put the 150-acre property in private hands and send the money to cash-strapped Sacramento.

California's Department of General Services said Facilities Management West was the winning bidder for the property in Costa Mesa. The firm had been working with the city to finance a partnership that would have put control of the fairgrounds in city hands, but that deal fell through, leaving Facilities Management to bid on its own.

The new pact does not include a municipal ownership component.

As outlined in the bid, the company would pay the state $20 million upfront and the $80 million balance, with interest, over 35 years.

"Facilities Management West obviously is delighted and eager to demonstrate that we have the creativity, capital and commitment to operate this important regional entertainment center successfully, with integrity, new vitality and in the public interest," spokesman Guy Lemmon said in a statement.

The number of bidders was not released, but there were said to be multiple parties, including the owner of the swap meet held regularly on the site.

General Services spokesman Eric Lamoureux said he did not know what Facilities Management West planned to do with the fairgrounds now that it was buying the property outright, rather than in the partnership with Costa Mesa.

The Orange County Fair & Event Center, also known as the 32nd District Agricultural Assn., which operates the annual county fair, is not included in the sale. It was unclear Wednesday whether the fair and other events would continue at the site or be moved to another location.

Not everyone was pleased with the announcement, and several officials said the process would not end with the accepted bid.

Many in Costa Mesa wanted local control, even passing a ballot measure that would have given residents greater say over how the property was used if it had ended up in city hands.

"The voters of Costa Mesa charged us with protecting the O.C. Fairgrounds as a publicly held asset," said Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Katrina Foley. For the property "to be sold privately ignores the will of the people."

At least one Orange County lawmaker pledged to fight the deal.

"The citizens of our county want to keep the Orange County Fairgrounds under public ownership," said Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Anaheim).

"There are still several steps in this process, even after they award the bidder," said Steve Beazley, president and chief executive of the fairgrounds. "It's really the beginning of the award, not the end. There are many steps to go before a contract is completed."

The state expects the deal with Facilities Management West to close in December.

A separate sell-off of state property concluded last week, with the sale of 11 properties occupied by state administrative offices for $2.3 billion to California First LLC, a partnership led by a Texas real estate firm and a private equity firm based in Irvine.

The 11 parcels contain 24 buildings, including the Ronald Reagan building in downtown Los Angeles.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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