COSTA MESA — On paper, the 2011 Orange County Fair was a huge success.
An attendance record was set. In four weeks, more than 1.4 million people passed through the fair gates — a 21% increase from 2010.
Organizers saw other increases compared to last year as well: 21% in admission revenue, 35% in both carnival game and rides revenue, and 28% in food and beverage sales.
Double-digit gains across the board are great, fair officials say, but there is one number that sticks out to them: 8%.
That's how much revenue went up for parking this year compared to last. With about 350,000 more visitors in 2011, the fair earned about $2 million in parking, which is about $100,000 more than last year.
"We're out of space, out of land," said Fair Board Chairman David Ellis. "It's a systemic problem. We don't have an answer."
A lack of parking comes up every year among board members after the fair has concluded, he said.
A couple of years ago the fair expanded from 19 to 23 days to alleviate some of the burden, Ellis said.
There's also talk of extending the fair's total number of days again, he said.
"This is a great problem to have, that our fair is so embraced by the community," Ellis said.
But with the economy yet to recover, there are few options available to make it more convenient for fair guests. Officials have talked to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District about using its fields or parking lots and discussed a parking structure with Orange Coast College.
Both prospects haven't gotten off the ground, Ellis said.
Fair officials are actively looking for off-site parking lots closer to the fairgrounds than this year's lots. Orange County Transportation Authority officials said more than 25,600 riders used the OC Fair Express service this year — more than four times the number of people who used it in 2008, the last time it was available.
That number will likely only grow with the Fair Board increasingly advertising the 150-acre property as an entertainment destination.
"No one move is going to solve the parking problem," Ellis said. "If we were going to reconfigure the property, remove some uses, it wouldn't solve the problem. It would help … There's no clear solution. It might be a series of [fixes]."