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Developer wins auction

President of Craig Realty Group makes no guarantees that the OC Fair & Event Center will be kept as fairgrounds.

January 15, 2010|By Mona Shadia

***This corrects an earlier version***

In less than a minute of live bidding, a Newport Beach-based developer offered $56.6 million to win Thursday’s public auction of the Orange County Fairgrounds, which drew a packed house at the Costa Mesa venue.

Craig Realty Group, known for building luxury outlet malls, was declared the winner after edging out Advanced Real Estate Services’ bid of $56 million.

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“This is an opportunity to improve what’s here,” said Steven L. Craig, Craig Realty president and chief executive. “I’m happy to keep the fair here, but we’d like to find a way to make it financially viable. Maybe a private-enterprise approach will work.”

Pressed for details, Craig wouldn’t elaborate on how he proposes to make the fairgrounds financially viable. The Newport Coast resident said he was unaware of Costa Mesa’s plan to place the issue of the fairgrounds’ land-use on the June ballot.

At this time, Craig said, he has no specific plan for the fairgrounds site. He wouldn’t give any guarantee that he would keep it as a fairground.

Costa Mesa and the county jointly bid $6.5 million, although county officials said they were willing to reach up to $40 million at the live auction.

A developer winning the bid is what Costa Mesa and county officials had feared the most. Councilwoman Katrina Foley called it “the worst-case scenario.”

“We only have so much money, and we can’t put the taxpayers’ dollars at risk. We already cut $19 million from our budget,” Foley said, referring to how the city was limited in bidding for the fairgrounds.

Tel Phil Enterprises Inc., which runs the weekly swap meet at the fairgrounds, placed a protest bid of $1,000.

“This is a bid on behalf of the people of Orange County,” said Jeff Teller, president of the Tel Phil company. “The fairgrounds is nothing but a jewel of Orange County.”

At least two dozen men in suits — and no women — filled up the two front rows of the auction room. All were bidders or their representatives. The rest of the room was occupied by members of the press. There were also community members in the room, who wore big orange buttons bearing the words “derail the sale” in bold, black letters.

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