Fairgrounds buyer to rehire full-time employees

COSTA MESA — Save for the chief executive, all full-time Orange County Fairgrounds employees set to be laid off by the state would be rehired by the private company seeking to acquire the 150-acre property, a spokesman for the buyer said Thursday.

Not long after learning they would be laid off if the proposed sale of the fairgrounds goes through, employees were told they would be rehired by Facilities Management West, the Newport Beach investment company seeking the purchase the O.C. Fair & Event Center for $100 million.

Eighty-one full-time employees would be rehired, said FMW spokesman Guy Lemmon said.

Some employees, however, may not make the transition, seeking other positions with the state.

"That's the most important thing I want to emphasize," Lemmon said. "Anyone who wants to work on our behalf has a job, period. While we don't know the date when we'll actually own the fairgrounds, that time will come, and if you choose to come work for us, you'll get a check from FMW. There will be no lapses."

The fate of some 25 to 30 part-timers has not yet been decided, Lemmon said.

Fairgrounds President and Chief Executive Steve Beazley would lose his job in the transaction and be replaced temporarily by former fairgrounds chief Becky Bailey-Findley, who would help lead the search for a permanent replacement.

Lemmon said that all the employees need to do is fill out an application for their positions.

The only wrinkle so far, Lemmon said, is that FMW will have to find a health insurance provider for the employees, who will lose health care coverage now provided to them by the state.

Lemmon also said that FMW's objective has never strayed since the conception of the purchase, which was to "protect the heritage of the fair, the equestrian center, Centennial Farms and the swap meet."

Lemmon said descriptions of FMW as a real estate developer "couldn't be furthest from the truth" and that the fairgrounds will continue to host the summertime O.C. Fair.

"We are not a private developer," he said. "We invest in numerous businesses."

Other lines of business include oil refining, food wholesaling, electronics manufacturing, and commercial and residential real estate transactions, he said.

"Our naysayers try to characterize us as somebody who just wants to redevelop the property for something else," he said. "That's simply not true."

All of this, of course, hangs on the state's ability to sell the fairgrounds.

Finalizing the sale with the state has been stalled after a group of small businesses led by Jeff Teller, president of Tel Phil Enterprises Inc., the company that runs the weekly swap meet, filed a lawsuit to stop the sale. An Orange County Superior Court judge placed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state and Facilities Management from further discussions to finalize the sale.

A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 15.

—Staff writer Mona Shadia contributed to this report.

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