COSTA MESA — Steven Beazley, who began working as seasonal employee at the Orange County Fairgrounds 37 years ago and eventually rose to president and chief executive, plans to leave his post and pursue other opportunities sometime this year, the O.C. Fair & Event Center announced Tuesday.
"I have a spirit about me of reinvention, and I always want to challenge myself," Beazley, 49, said. "Not to say there aren't challenges here at the fairgrounds, there's no doubt about it, but there are just so many other interests I have in life, and this is the time to pursue them."
One of those interests is the eventual publication of a book, although Beazley said he did not yet have a topic in mind.
Beazley has not yet selected a departure date, but he has informed the Fair Board, which governs the state-owned fairgrounds, that he would like to assist in the effort to recruit and name his replacement.
"This is evolutionary for me as it is for the fair; it needs to change as well," Beazley said. "This is not a marathon, this is a relay race and it is my turn to pass the baton."
Beazley is leaving while the fairgrounds is at its peak — having just seen its most successful O.C. Fair with an attendance increase of about 20% last year.
However, the fairgrounds needs to continue to evolve to meet changing community expectations, Beazley said.
Beazley did not have any specific change in mind, only that most any organization and individual experiences change over time.
"This is the first time in 20 years that I don't know what's next for me, and it feels terrific," Beazley said.
Beazley began working at the fair as seasonal employee with his grandmother at age 12 in 1975. He became a full-time employee 14 years ago when he was hired as an executive.
He has been president and CEO for four years, overseeing a tumultuous period when the state unsuccessfully tried to sell the fairgrounds to a private investment company in Newport Beach. There has also been tension among liberal and conservative wings of the Fair Board and debates about whether to continue to contract with the operator of the weekend swap meet.
But Beazley also presided over the Fair's greatest successes — last year set the all-time attendance record — and he is helping organize a remodeling project.
"Steve has provided over three decades of strong, dedicated service, and he's a young man with a bright future and has indicated interested in pursuing other things," Fair Board member Nick Berardino said Tuesday. "I'm grateful for his service and wish him the best in his future endeavors."
The board has not yet discussed how to go about the recruitment process to fill the position, Berardino said.
"There is no question that we'll have a smooth transition and while he'll be missed, everything will proceed smoothly," Berardino said.
Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis contributed to this report.