Remodeled Fair Site to House the Building

Times Staff Writer

Of all the changes brewing at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, none is as far-reaching as the $30-million renovation proposal known as the master development plan.

Approved by the fair board last year, its key feature is a 100,000-square-foot exhibition hall that fair officials hope will attract trade shows and conventions year-round. For concerts, it could be converted into a 6,500-seat auditorium, and, for banquets, could seat 2,000 delegates.

Although some critics have complained about its size--the structure would be five times larger than any other building on the 62-acre grounds--city officials have hailed it as a boon to Ventura.

"It would be the building in the county," said Russ Smith, executive director of the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau, adding that the facility would be about four times larger than the city's next-largest convention space.

"It will give us a spot to attract those larger conventions," he said. "It makes a lot of sense."

Besides the exhibition hall, plans call for several barns to be replaced by a 23,000-square-foot livestock building, a 4.8-acre carnival area to be moved from the east to west end of the fairgrounds, a separate half-acre children's carnival area, a 1,500-foot-long outdoor exhibit area stretching from one end of the fairgrounds to the other and a new roadway encircling the grounds.

Landscaping, parking, electrical and drainage improvements also are expected to enhance the 79-year-old facility.

Taken together, the renovation represents a recognition that the fairgrounds can "continue to function and thrive at its existing location and that, with improvement, it can become a greater public facility with strong connections to the city," according to a 1985 Master Development Plan consulting report.

Financing is still being negotiated, but Ventura city officials have committed themselves to providing a long-term, $11.4-million no-interest loan to help finance the project.

Everett Millais, the city's director of community development, said that benefits from the renovations will be well worth the cost.

"For most of the year, the site is under-utilized," Millais said. "We view this as a way to assist in the economic upgrading of downtown, as well as to serve as a kind of anchor for the whole development of the city's coastline."

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