Sale of fairgrounds in question as bids denied

Posted on March 24, 2010

The California Department of General Services director rejected all bids on the Orange County Fairgrounds last week, leaving the fate of the fairgrounds uncertain.

According to Jeffrey Young, deputy director for public affairs for the Department of General Services, agency director Ronald Diedrich was given authority by the state government to reject or accept offers for the fairgrounds.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still plans to sell the property Young said, but the bids offered were not deemed high enough after careful analysis by real estate professionals.

Regardless of opposition from the Orange County community, state government officials believe selling the fairgrounds will be best for the state.

“It’s hard to know—one of those things we are sensitive to is the fact that the property has many uses, but we’re also sensitive to the fact that piece of land is extremely valuable,” Young said.

The state put the fairgrounds on the market in October along with other pubic properties in an effort to solve its economic problems, according to Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor.

The sale of the fairgrounds and other public spaces was expected to generate between $600 million and $1 billion for the state’s general fund, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But several officials from the Orange County community, including Coast Community College District Board President Jerry Patterson, said the sale won’t be enough to solve the $19 billion budget deficit.

“Even $100 million is not going to put a dent in the state deficit,” Patterson said.

The district’s primary interest to keep the fairgrounds as a public entity is to ensure parking spaces for about 2,000 Orange Coast College students, Patterson said.

“The rejection—that’s half a win and we’re pleased,” Patterson said.

Foundation Director Doug Bennett said the rejection of the bids means that it is more likely that the grounds will be sold to a public entity, but Young said the rejection of the bids had no direct relation to opposition of the sale.

Instead, the opposition had an indirect effect on the sale.

“Obviously (those opposed to the sale) were able to have enough impact to affect the value of the property,” Young said. “We didn’t get the kind of numbers we were expecting.”

Craig Realty, a privately-owned company, won the highest bid with $56.5 million which was much lower than the expected value of the property, estimated to be from $96 million to $180 million, according to the DGS website.

The city and the county are discussing with the state about buying the property, Bennett said, but nothing has been made public.

The district is looking to talk to the city of Costa Mesa and the County of Orange to be part of a solution which would keep the fairgrounds public property.

The 150-acre fairgrounds, which is located on Fairview Road across from OCC, is used for multiple purposes including overflow parking for OCC students and for emergency evacuations.

Originally published in the Coast Report, Orange Coast College’s student-run newspaper.

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