Fairgrounds lease made public

COSTA MESA — The Orange County Fairgrounds lease agreement between Costa Mesa and a private operator, Facilities Management West, has been released for public review.

The 81-page document, which includes 28 sections, sets the guidelines for what Newport Beach-based Facilities Management can and cannot do when it comes to maintaining, improving and operating the fairgrounds.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece said she's reviewed the lease several times, but it will take her many more hours to thoroughly examine it.

Councilwoman Katrina Foley, an attorney, said she's setting aside the weekend to review the document.

"I know that the city attorney and our ground lease attorney counsel have been working around the clock to put together a ground lease that's beneficial to the city," she said. "I continue to be frustrated by the unreasonable timeline that we find ourself in for such a significant decision."

Facilities Management established a separate entity, calling it the OC Fair and Event Center LP, to enter into the lease with the city, said City Atty. Kimberly Hall Barlow.

Costa Mesa established a joint-powers authority — whose members are the City Council — to buy the fairgrounds from the state, act as landlord and negotiate the $96-million purchase.

The agreement will transfer the fairgrounds' personal property, such as equipment, cars and supplies, to Facilities Management. The city will also be licensing fairgrounds' trademarks to allow Facilities Management to use them for the life of the lease, which is 55 years, Barlow said.

The ground lease includes about 20 exhibits and schedules, but many have not been completed. Barlow said they hope to have them completed before the fairgrounds authority and the council meet Tuesday to vote on the agreement. Among the schedules is one that allows the city to hold onto some of the fairgrounds' personal property, which has not yet been identified.

The lease also guarantees that the fairgrounds would remain a fair and exposition center, adhering to voter-approved conditions set by Measure C.

But Facilities Management would be allowed to resize, change and relocate the existing operations within the property. The ground lease, however, prohibits Facilities Management from downsizing the equestrian center and Centennial Farm without the approval of the fairgrounds authority.

Some areas are still under negotiations with Facilities Management, including community use; the ability for community groups operating on the fairground to raise funds; and how Facilities Management would ensure that existing or similar community, nonprofit and educational groups can use the property.

Facilities Management has agreed to provide the existing groups with the same access they currently enjoy, Barlow said.

"That's the piece that I'm trying to put my attention to at this point, is that we have sufficiently covered all the current and potential community uses that the public would expect," Foley said. "The public can help me by reviewing that section of the ground lease and give me feedback.

"I want to make sure there's a broad enough description of the community use language and itemization, because the ground lease will be in effect for 55 years, and our community will change, and we have to have language that will accommodate the changes for what is supposed to be a public property."

The state Legislature, which must sign off on the sale between the city and the state, has until the end of the month to approve it.

A special joint meeting between the City Council and the Orange County Fairgrounds Authority is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to vote on the ground lease. The public will be able to comment.

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