The Orange County Fair Board last week approved the first of a four-phase, $18.5-million remodeling project at the Pacific Amphitheatre.
Phase 1, which will cost $4.5 million, is set to begin in August 2012 and run through July 2013.
Work will be funded with cash reserves the board expects to have at the end of this year.
"The board decided it was important to pay with cash as we go," said OC Fair Board Chairman David Ellis. "That may change in the future, but for now, let's get the process started."
The amphitheater hasn't seen a major renovation since it was built in 1978 by Nathan Carter, Ellis said.
It's seen minor projects, such as the installations of an elevator for disabled patrons and a commercial kitchen backstage. It was also closed temporarily before reopening in 2003.
Overall, the renovation will see several additions and improvements to the amphitheater, including:
•A new entrance from the Orange County Fair side of the venue to integrate the Pacific Amphitheatre with the rest of the fairgrounds.
•Replacement of 8,500 existing seats and the addition of 2,000 Terrace level seats.
•Renovation of the box offices, restrooms and concession stands.
•New landscaping, hardscaping, waterscapes and walkways.
•New party decks at the top of the Terrace level.
•Additional backstage dressing rooms and more restrooms.
•The possible remodeling and relocation of the Memorial Gardens building.
Also part of the project will be sound attenuation, ensuring that sound from the concerts doesn't disrupt surrounding neighbors — a once hot-button issue with nearby residents.
"As of now, we have not received one complaint since we reopened five or six years ago (in 2003)," Ellis said, something the board wants to keep that way.
Phase 1 will begin the early stages of the berm removal — a several-acre mound of earth at the back end of the venue. It also will include creating a new small entry and construction of several projects like retaining walls, monuments, ticket office locations and waterscapes and landscaping.
The Pacific Amphitheatre hosts a slew of big names each year. Past artists include the Steve Miller Band, Neon Trees, Melissa Etheridge, Weezer, Bill Cosby, Bob Dylan, Duran Duran and Selena Gomez.
Its 2011 summer concert series brought in $5 million, spokeswoman Robin Wachner said.
"The concert series during the fair will go on as planned," Ellis said. "The major concern was we needed to produce the concerts without disruption."
ATI Architecture, which has an office in Costa Mesa, handled the renderings and cost estimation of the entire remodel project. All work will be sent out for bid to comply with government laws regulating the state-owned fairgrounds.
The total project could take up to six years to finish, but "it's our desire to accelerate that," Ellis added.
The board also may look into sponsorships to help fund the project.
"We're always looking to try to secure sponsorships," Ellis said, noting that in past years sponsors have included Lexus and Jeep.
Costs of and funding for phases 2, 3 and 4 have yet to be voted on.
Having the renovation done in phases and over several years will help the board try to fund each phase in cash and without debt, ensure that the venue can still be used for concerts, reduce business interruption to the Fair and other big events as well as allow proper time for architectural, engineering and bidding processes.