Costa Mesa City Hall has entered into “exclusive negotiations” with the state to buy the Orange County Fairgrounds, city officials confirmed Wednesday evening.
Shortly after the California Department of General Services rejected all bids for the 150-acre property March 17, Costa Mesa entered negotiations with the state to buy the land, said Councilwoman Katrina Foley.
“The governor has expressed pretty clearly that no matter what he’s selling the property,” Foley said. “We’ve promised the people of Costa Mesa and Orange County we’d to do anything we can to preserve it. This is what we believe it takes... Purchasing it is the only way to ensure it remains a fairground.”
City officials said a news conference would take place today, formally announcing the negotiations to the public.
Specifics on how much the city would pay and where that money would come from will develop during the negotiation process, Foley said.
“Not a penny will come out of general fund dollars,” she said in reference to the city’s day-to-day budget.
Becky Bailey-Findley, chief executive of the fairgrounds from 1994 to 2008, will serve as project manager of the group and work to buy the land, Foley said.
Bailey-Findley is charged with preserving the fair’s roots and finding a way to make the attraction financially self-sustaining, Foley said.
The Equestrian Center, amphitheater and marketplace are all intricate to that plan, Foley said.
“We have consistently been of the mind set this needs to remain a public entity,” she added.
The governor’s office counted on revenues from the fairground sale in this year’s budget, further tightening the deadline for the state and Costa Mesa to negotiate. Foley said the city hopes to have finalized a sale by the end of the city’s fiscal year, June 30.
State officials declined comment.
“Whenever we’re pursing a sale we do not comment until we’ve completed the sale,” said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the state Department of General Services.
Public and private agencies participated in a public auction for the property Jan. 14. State officials speculated the land was worth between $96 million and $180 million. The highest bid came from Newport Beach’s Craig Realty Group, who offered $56.5 million. Costa Mesa and the county entered a join-bid of $6.5 million.
The state, which is selling the grounds to offset its massive spending gap, rejected those bids, calling them too low.