O.C.'s vast fairgrounds could be used for a park, agriculture, events and horses, residents suggest

When it comes to the operational future of the OC Fair & Event Center, attendees at a recent community forum said they’d like to see more openness — both in terms of the physical layout of the Costa Mesa property and how available it is to the community.

Those were some of the thoughts offered Wednesday during a meeting at the fairgrounds to collect input on the development of the Fair & Event Center’s strategic business plan, which will help shape how the organization structures its operations in the years ahead.

Fair & Event Center Chief Executive Kathy Kramer said the plan will be a “five-year strategy on how we bring our mission statement alive” and focused on “what’s important to us as an organization.”

It’s not to be confused with the in-progress master site plan, which Kramer said is a separate but related effort dealing more with the “bricks and mortar and the physical layout” of the fairgrounds.

“While the 10-year master site plan will address the physical facilities, the five-year business plan will provide the direction and strategies for how the facilities will meet business and community needs,” Kramer added in a statement Thursday.

During Wednesday’s meeting, project consultant Bill Kelly of Kelly Associates Management Group asked the roughly 30 attendees to give their thoughts on the current strengths and weaknesses of the Fair & Event Center — as well as what they see as opportunities and obstacles for the organization.

“This is one of the largest public properties remaining in the county of Orange,” he said. “What can you do with this land asset?”

Among the strengths, attendees said, are the Fair & Event Center’s size and location — both of which open opportunities to develop programs and resources that are accessible to residents from throughout the county.

However, attendees said a downside is that so much of the property is paved over that it limits how people can enjoy or use the space.

“One of the drawbacks of the fairgrounds is this vast asphalt parking lot,” said Costa Mesa resident Rick Huffman. “The more the fairgrounds can be like a park and be open to the residents and open to the public to use as a park, that’s the really big asset that you have here.”

A number of attendees praised the equestrian center and said more should be done to expand and support its operations.

The agricultural resources — namely Centennial Farm — were another plus, though some said more could be done to tap into the property’s agrarian heritage and provide additional educational opportunities.

“Being in a built-out city with cities around us, agriculture is very important, especially for children,” said Costa Mesa resident Teresa Drain.

Some attendees said the monthly Fair Board meetings should be moved from the morning to the evening to make them easier to attend and taped and broadcast.

Others said the Fair & Event Center could stand to work closer with the city of Costa Mesa and local residents and be more accessible for community groups and events.

“We also need to find a way to create rates that are favorable for the community to have meetings and events here, because it’s too expensive,” said Reggie Mundekis, a fairgrounds activist. “I’m not sure why it costs so much to use space here.”

Another community forum on the business plan was scheduled for Thursday evening.

Kelly said he will compile public input and present that to the Fair Board at an upcoming workshop.

The goal, he said, is to have a draft plan ready for the board’s review by the end of the year.

Twitter @LukeMMoney