Community Commentary: FMW had big plans for Fourth at Fairgrounds

The Fourth of July is a special day for celebration.

The holiday marks the beginning of summer. It's a time to gather with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues to celebrate our freedom.

But Independence Day this year was bittersweet for some of us at Facilities Management West.

In anticipation of buying the Orange County Fairgrounds, we had planned a series of innovative new events, including a daylong Fourth of July festival, that would demonstrate FMW's commitment to vitalizing the property during the 11 months the O.C. Fair is dark.

As I'm sure you're aware, the fairgrounds was closed Monday to allow for preparations of the fair, which begins July 15.

We believe the fairgrounds — with a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater and 150 acres of space — offers one the best places in Orange County to gather in celebration of our independence

Huntington Beach has its historic and patriotic parade. Newport Dunes offers a delightful holiday experience.

I know that we would have provided a fun, safe and memorable Fourth of July for Costa Mesa and all of Orange County.

What would it have looked like?

A sea of red, white and blue.

The day would begin with a countywide pancake breakfast with strawberries (red), whipped cream (white) and blueberries (blue).

In exchange for breakfast, we'd encourage donations to the Centennial Farm Foundation.

At 11 a.m., the "Preview Fair" would open to generate excitement about the upcoming fair. Younger children could feed and pet farm animals, get their faces painted, ride ponies and enjoy magic shows and balloon animals.

For extra fun, we'd have a few favorite carnival rides ready for sampling. We'd sell fried Oreos, fried Snickers, fried everything. We'd give away free fair tickets throughout the day during interactive contests.

Then, as the sun began to set, the fun would really heat up.

Guests would be invited to picnic for free in the parking lot while waiting for the fireworks extravaganza. There would be free entertainment in the parking lot. At the amphitheater, we'd offer a concert featuring a popular country-music artist.

The evening would end with a 45-minute fireworks show visible from all corners of the fairgrounds.

Unfortunately, legal challenges to the sale have blocked our plans — at least for the time being.

But the challenges have not dampened our enthusiasm or love for the fair and all the tradition associated with the fairgrounds.

We have a hard time containing our excitement about how we would enhance the traditions while infusing the property with additional events and activities.

Private ownership and new investment in the property allows for the public to be served in ways the state is not equipped — in part because of California's ongoing fiscal crisis.

California's budget crisis has led some local officials to support sharing fairgrounds' revenue with the state. The Fair Board is even considering developing commercial endeavors such as a hotel or corporate fast food projects to raise additional funds.

FMW's plans, by contrast, are entertainment-based and aligned with the vision of Costa Mesa's Measure C, a mandate that prohibits commercial development.

A sale also means $300 million for California's fiscal crisis, including $1 million in new annual property tax revenues for struggling local governments and schools. FMW will also hire all 82 current fairgrounds employees.

While we are disappointed we didn't get to host a gigantic celebration this year, we look forward to next year. And, of course, we welcome your ideas and feedback.

In the meantime, we look forward to enjoying the O.C. Fair. As it is every year, the fair will be a wonderful community gathering and festivity. Costa Mesa will again be the place to be in July and August.

We salute and commend the fair staff for planning an exciting O.C. Fair in the midst of controversy.

On a day when we remember and honor the importance of freedom and liberty, we declare that it is time to set the O.C. Fairgrounds free of bureaucratic red tape and to let the customer be the guiding force.

BECKY BAILEY-FINDLEY is Facilities Management West's newly-appointed chief executive and former chief executive of the Orange County Fair & Events Center.

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