Fair Board to discuss swap meet's future

COSTA MESA — The Orange County Fair Board on Thursday plans to lay the groundwork for the future of the fairgrounds' weekend swap meet when it considers issuing a request for bidders to take over the event in 2013.

The move comes on the heels of the board's vote last month to dissolve Tel Phil Enterprises' contract for operating the county swap meet, which is officially known as the Orange County Market Place. The vote stipulated Tel Phil, operator of the swap meet for 42 years, running the event only for the next 18 months.

Meanwhile, the swap meet's vendors can continue to operate, but will have to strike new deals with whomever takes over, Fair Board members said last month. Board members said they were not inclined to continue with Tel Phil's contract after years of declining revenues and a rancorous relationship with its president, Jeff Teller.

Swap meet officials, however, say revenues are up 4% percent this year.

In the board agenda, Fair Board staff suggests three options for a new contractor to operate the swap meet.

The first option is a collaborative effort with the fairground operators, who would handle parking, and a second company that would handle food and beverage sales. In this model, the board would expect 35% of gross revenues, which would equal nearly $3 million annually.

The second option would have the chosen operator handle everything, from food and beverages to parking and admissions. The fairgrounds would require between $3 million and $3.25 million annually.

In both scenarios, the fairgrounds' revenue would increase about 50% compared with the last two years, when Teller's company was paying $2 million. The board approved reducing Teller's rent in 2009 when swap meet revenues couldn't meet the fairgrounds' requirements.

A confidential scoring committee would rank the contractors' bids on a 100-point score.

The identities of the scoring committee — who could include Fair Board staff, Fair Board members or independent third-party consultants — would not be revealed until after a contract for the years 2013 to 2018 has been awarded, according to the request for proposal (RFP) documents.

If two companies received the same winning score, the vendor would be chosen by a coin flip.

The third option is that the fairgrounds no longer hosts the swap meet, and the organization finds another revenue source to make up for the loss.

In other meeting business, the Fair Board plans to consider signing on with the OC Marathon for the next five years.

According to the staff report, the agreement would allow the organization exclusive rights to the fairgrounds parking lot during the weekend of the marathon and would pay the fairgrounds $100,000 annually.

The contract was initially proposed last month, but new board member Nick Berardino put on the brakes. Noting that the board had just ousted the swap meet operator after 42 years, Berardino argued that it was worth getting detailed financial information from the OC Marathon and finding out who runs it before signing on.

"This is a simple fundamental question that those of us who are in the public trust, we should know who we're doing business with," Berardino said.

He noted the OC Marathon, though it works with a number of charities, is a for-profit company.

"What I think is important, particularly in these times, is to be sure that if we're getting into a five-year agreement, the kids are going to get the best end of the deal," he said.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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