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Community Commentary: Fair could be better off in private hands

July 01, 2011|By Tony Dodero

Orange County Fair President and Chief Executive Steve Beazley and Fair Board member Dave Ellis on Wednesday wrote a Community Commentary, "Fairgrounds play a big role in kids' lives," to vow that the fair as we know it would continue in its present form under their leadership.

It sounded all well and good to me. But at the end of the column came this statement: "I doubt that we could hope for a similar future under private ownership."

Well, I'm not so sure.

One of my claims to fame at the Daily Pilot — as a reporter and later as the editor — is that I never missed an O.C. Fair. I tested out all the latest fried foods, rode the latest crazy ride and wrote all about the latest pig to give birth to multiple piglets. Through the years, my wife and I brought our children to the annual shindig to join in the fun. They too love the fair food, the carnival rides and even the pigs — though they prefer the Alaskan racing version. My girls even performed at the fair once as part of a dance troupe.

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So, I found it distressing when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he was going to sell the property. What would become of it? Would all those fair memories fade away? I watched from afar as the negotiations rolled on, Measure C was passed and the property was sold to Facilities Management West. I worried that private operators would not have the same desire to keep the fair wholesome and fun and instead would turn it into a commercial venture that I or my kids would not recognize.

About a month ago, a friend invited me to meet one of his clients, Guy Lemmon, who happens to be one of the principals of FMW. He knew I had written about my concerns in my blog http://www.goaskyourdadblog.com. I was skeptical that he could convince me of his plan, but after the meeting, I had to admit, his argument that the fair would be better off in private hands than in the hands of the fair board is a pretty good one. Here's a couple key things Lemmon pointed out to me:

•The state doesn't have to abide by Measure C. FMW does.

•The state doesn't have any money (you might have heard of that little budget crisis up in Sacramento). FMW does and offered a $100-million deal to the state to buy the property.

•The state doesn't pay any property taxes on the fairgrounds property. Facilities Management West would to the tune of $ 1 million a year.

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