Two Fair Board members advise keeping Tel Phil

COSTA MESA — The Orange County Fair Board should not end its contract with its longtime swap meet vendor but should instead partner with it to grow the weekend mainstay and other fairgrounds events, according to the board's two newest members.

After meeting with executives from Tel Phil Enterprises last week, Fair Board directors Nick Berardino and Douglas La Belle said the company should continue operating the Orange County Market Place, commonly known as the OC swap meet.

"The meetings produced the foundation of a collaborative and cooperative working environment with the goal of advancing the brands of the OC Fair & Event Center, Tel Phil Enterprises and [the board]," according to the agenda for Thursday's Fair Board meeting.

Two months ago, the board voted to end its contract with Tel Phil, which gave the company an 18-month eviction notice.

The majority of the board argued Tel Phil hasn't shown it can adequately turn around years of sluggish profits or improve the relationship between its chief executive, Jeff Teller, and the board as a whole. Placating the urges of dozens of vendors who spoke at last month's meeting, the board delayed putting swap meet operations out to bid. Instead, in October the board assigned Berardino and La Belle to a committee to meet with Tel Phil.

The men will report their findings Thursday. According to the agenda, their meetings with the company have put things on the right path.

"The committee strongly believes that the spirit of collaboration and actual progress made during the two meetings with Tel Phil seems to have established a turning point in the relationship with [the fair] and Tel Phil," according to the staff report.

Berardino and La Belle recommend the Fair Board work with Tel Phil to cross-promote the swap meet, the annual Orange County Fair and other events, invest in the master plan and find other events to bring to the fairgrounds.

The staff report did not touch on the difference between Tel Phil's current annual rent of $2 million, and the $3 million to $3.5 million fair officials believe they could get from a new operator.

Thursday's meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. at 88 Fair Drive.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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