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O.C. fairgrounds board raises parking fee but freezes fair’s ticket prices for now

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Visitors ride the Tea Cups at last year’s Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa. The fairgrounds board of directors decided Thursday not to raise ticket prices for the fair, but the year-round parking fee will increase to $10.
(File Photo)

The year-round parking fee at the OC Fair & Event Center will increase to $10, but Orange County Fair ticket prices will remain the same for another year following a meeting of the fairgrounds board of directors Thursday evening.

The board unanimously approved the $1 parking fee hike following a discussion about how to keep the Fair & Event Center financially sound without increasing the strain on visitors’ pocketbooks. The board’s action came after it considered several options, including raising weekend or weekday fair admission prices.

It’s unclear when the year-round parking rate increase will take effect, but it will be before the start of this year’s fair July 17. Parking during the fair is already $10.

Board member Ashleigh Aitken echoed others’ thoughts when she said raising the current $9 parking fee to an even $10 would help the flow of traffic into the Costa Mesa fairgrounds on busy days by cutting the need to give change to those paying with $10 bills. She added that the Orange County Fair has lower ticket prices than those in San Diego and Los Angeles counties.

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“We do value being a family-friendly, cost-effective destination,” Aitken said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything to tarnish that reputation we have in the community.”

For the 2019 fair, general admission cost $12 on weekdays and $14 on weekends.

Other board members said the fair eventually will need to raise ticket prices because of inflation and minimum-wage increases but that it can wait for now. The last ticket price hike was three years ago, Chief Executive Michele Richards said.

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Board member Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia, who cast the only vote in support of increasing weekday and weekend admission prices by $1, said, “It became very apparent to me after seeing the financial well-being of the fair ... that we need to do something.”

Richards said the Fair & Event Center raked in about $51 million last year, less than the $52 million projected, and ended 2019 with net proceeds of $4.15 million, slightly more than projected after expenses came in lower than expected.

Nearly 1.4 million people visited the Orange County Fair this year — not quite a record, but enough people to eat more than three tons of sourdough bread at Ten Pound Buns.

Most board members agreed that they need more-detailed financial information before deciding to raise admission prices.

“We’d like to do more-robust work around this,” said Vice Chairman Andreas Meyer.

The fair offers many deals throughout the summer event, including discounts for senior citizens and children and free admission for military members and veterans, as well as for people participating in donation drives on specified days.

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Updates:
3:27 PM, Jan. 17, 2020: This article was originally published at 12:07 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.

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