Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is Irvine Clearing The Way For The Fair?

OCLNN ARTICLE ON GREAT PARK ZONING CHANGE
Erik Holmes, in the fledgling Orange County Local News Network (OCLNN), today published an article entitled, "Irvine council considers changes to Great Park development process". You can read that article HERE. According to Holmes, the Irvine City Council is considering taking over the Orange County Great Park design review process and cut out the Community Services Commission as they do so. They are also considering a new zoning classification specific to the Great Park.

PLAN TO BROADEN THE ZONING
Holmes tells us that the current zoning is either recreation or preservation, but the plan is to broaden the zoning to allow for "government facilities, greenhouses, maintenance facilities, theaters, child care centers and restaurants in addition to the usual recreation uses of picnicking and fishing areas, nature centers, stables, golf courses, parks, swimming pools, botanical gardens, nurseries and open space." He goes on to say that sections currently zoned for preservation will remain untouched and "will include hiking, biking, horseback riding, botanical gardens and other low-impact uses."

KINDA LOOKS LIKE THE FAIRGROUNDS
I mention this tonight because it strikes me as a curious bit of coincidental timing when you consider that the future of the Orange County Fair and Events Center continues to swirl as though in a hurricane. If you look at those uses planned for this new zoning you'll find yourself thinking, "Hmmm, this looks familiar!" A suspicious guy might begin to wonder whether this proposed zoning change might make it just a teeny bit easier for the Great Park to swallow up the Orange County Fair should a new buyer with more grandiose plans for the 150 acres in Costa Mesa surface with a pile of cash in his hands.

COSTA MESA LOCKING DOWN THE FAIRGROUNDS USES
I'm even more nervous because the Costa Mesa City Council, in an attempt to get out ahead of this process, is placing on the June, 2010 ballot a measure that would lock the current zoning for the Fairgrounds for uses that are, well, a Fairgrounds! If the people of Costa Mesa vote to lock down that zoning it will take another vote of the people to unlock it in the future, thus making the timetable for any other kind of development a slow and expensive process.

NEW OWNERSHIP WILL WORRY ABOUT ROI
I worry about this because it is still unclear what happens once the Fairgrounds is sold and the state no longer has a vested interest in it. It's unclear what happens if the Fair Board is unable to negotiate a satisfactory lease agreement for their current space from the new owner. Anyone who pays $100 million - a number that has been bandied about - for that property is going to expect a good return on that investment. Since the Fair has made a small profit each year without having to lease the land, I wonder if the new owner might decide that a Fair isn't going to pay off for them. Similar questions may exist for the Orange County Marketplace, Equestrian Center, Amphitheater, etc.

IRVINE MIGHT MAKE AN OFFER THEY CAN'T REFUSE*(See below)
If our "friends" over in Irvine - The Emperor Agran and his merry minions - decide that what they need to get their Great Park finally off and running is the Orange County Fair and all, or most, of it's current amenities - Equestrian Center, Amphitheater, etc. - they might consider making the Fair Board an offer they can't refuse... like rent for a buck a year for the first 10 years, for example.

TELLER AND THE EMPEROR LUNCHING
*UPDATE (3/24/10 @ NOON): Since I posted this yesterday afternoon a friend forwarded me an article from the Orange County Business Journal by Rick Reiff in which Reiff observes that Jeff Teller, head honcho at the Orange County MarketPlace, was seen having a nice, chatty lunch with Larry Agran at Bistango in Irvine. Remember that suspicious guy a few paragraphs above? Well, he's wondering about the coincidental timing of this lunch. Teller is one smart businessman, so it wouldn't surprise me at all that he is seen schmoozing with The Emperor Agran.

TENTS OR THE OLD BUILDINGS COULD WORK
"Hey", you say, "what about the buildings they would leave behind? What about all that infrastructure? What about the historical buildings?" Well, big tents could be erected to house the exhibits as a temporary measure. Heck, the new owner of the Fairgrounds might sell all the buildings just to get them moved. The Great Park snatched Cirque du Soliel from Costa Mesa this year with absolutely no trouble at all.

FAIR SET FOR NEXT YEAR, BUT...
Look, we know we will have a 2010 Fair at the Fairgrounds this year, but all the contracts for ongoing events were supposed to have been negotiated with termination dates for next fall, coincident with the date the new buyer takes possession. The last date I heard was November 1, 2010. After that date the world is just full of question marks...

QUICK START UP AT GREAT PARK
With most of a year to plan it, the Great Park could easily begin hosting the Orange County Fair next summer. They could carve out a couple hundred acres over there and get the water, sewer and power in place in a matter of months. Heck, they could use the old runways, for goodness sake.

OOPS!
I'm concerned that we might be shooting ourselves in the foot by locking up the zoning of the Fairgrounds via a ballot measure. The way it stands right now it would take a vote of the City Council to change it. If we tie it to a vote of the people we might hamstring any good, reasonable development from happening because of the uncertainty and time delays. Some will say, "Great! That's exactly what we want!" OK, but what happens if the Fair moves south? We'll be standing there on the steps of City Hall looking across the street at 150 empty acres saying, "Uh-Oh".

ASK THE FAIR BOARD ABOUT THE GREAT PARK...
Perhaps someone should ask the Fair Board at their meeting on Thursday just what their position is on moving the Fair. Can't hurt to ask, can it?

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