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Famous Tet festival heading to Orange County fairgrounds

Arts and CultureHo Chi Minh City (Vietnam)

Organizers of the largest Tet festival in the U.S. — an event long linked with Garden Grove — began marketing their new venue Thursday, hoping to lure more immigrants and vendors to the festival's new home at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

The Lunar New Year celebration will debut Feb. 7-9 at the O.C. Fair & Event Center.

For weeks, a team led by Nina Tran, president of the Union of Vietnamese Students Assn., which organizes the gathering, had scoured neighboring cities to search for a replacement after Garden Grove officials demanded more money to help host the event, forcing the group to seek another spot.

"We really wanted to be closer to the Vietnamese community, but this is our best option," Tran said. "It's a great space and the staff has been so supportive to work with."

Vietnamese Americans applauded the news on social media, as many supporters worried about where the festival would be staged.

"It's an ideal solution," said John Truong of Santa Ana, a regular at the Tet festival for the last decade. "It's not exactly in Little Saigon, but it's close enough and we won't have trouble with parking."

Indeed, Tran cites ample parking as one of the advantages of the new venue. She and Billy Le, former president of student association, toured the fairgrounds last year before negotiations with Garden Grove officials turned difficult this past fall.

Dina Nguyen, Garden Grove councilwoman, said the festival cost the city nearly $1.2 million over the last 11 years, a figure organizers said seemed inflated. The City Council had asked organizers to provide financial statements from previous events, with Mayor Bruce Broadwater angry that he could not see a detailed accounting of expenses.

Negotiations between the two sides for the 2014 celebration involved a public meeting in September that drew hundreds to Garden Grove City Hall. Contract talks ended in late October, leading Tran's team to begin scouting spots in Westminster and Santa Ana.

"We wanted to keep it central to the Vietnamese population," Tran said, "and we understand that older adults may not have the means to attend as it's a bit far away" at the fairgrounds.

While her team works on security details with Costa Mesa police and the Orange County Sheriff's Department, organizers will also look into busing people from Little Saigon to the fairgrounds.

"We have festival vendors totally geared toward the Vietnamese population, but we also have vendors seeing this as an opportunity to connect with other populations," Tran said of the venue change. "We've been very blessed — and we feel welcomed" working with fairgrounds staff.

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