Highest bidder builds malls

With a lower-than-expected winning bid, Newport Beach-based Craig Realty Group Inc., came out the victor from the state’s controversial move Thursday to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds.

Craig Realty Group Inc., is a privately owned company that buys expansive swaths of property throughout the country and turns them into huge, luxury outlet malls.

According to the company’s website, the company “is a leader in development and management of income producing upscale factory outlet centers,” such as the Cabazon Outlets mall.

The firm has more than 500 employees, and owns and operates more than 3.5 million square feet of existing real estate development in six states. Another 1 million square feet of retail space is being developed, according to the company site. The group operates outlet centers in California, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oregon and Missouri. The company lists upcoming outlets in Utah, New Jersey, Illinois and San Clemente.

Company founder, Steven L. Craig, had little to say about future plans for the land at 88 Fair Drive.

“It’s part of the fabric of the community, and this is an opportunity to improve what’s here,” he said shortly after they won Thursday’s auction.

Before founding his own development company, Craig was the president and chief operating officer of Chelsea Property Group, a publicly traded company.

Campaign finance records show he contributed steadily to Rep. Ken Calvert’s (R-Corona) campaigns and in May 2009 contributed $1,000 to former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman’s California governor exploratory committee. He also contributed $5,000 to Jerry Brown’s campaign to re-elect him as state attorney general.

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