Fairgrounds CEO provides update

The chief executive of the O.C. Fair & Event Center presented an overview of the property's recent accomplishments and future plans Thursday morning to about 30 attendees in Newport Beach's Central Library.

Doug Lofstrom was the featured speaker for Wake Up! Newport, a regular event sponsored by the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. The Newport Beach resident came out of retirement in April to head the organization after his predecessor, Jerome Hoban, left Orange County for another fair job in Northern California.

The state-owned, 150-acre fairgrounds property in Costa Mesa has had its fair share of challenges in recent years, namely the hotly contested fairgrounds sale, Lofstrom said.

Beginning in 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed selling the Orange County Fairgrounds to help the state budget deficit, though the move met fierce opposition and a host of court battles. Gov. Jerry Brown later scrapped the plan. Within the past year, the Orange County district attorney's office reputedly began its second investigation into any alleged wrongdoing throughout the failed sale process.

"We got wound up so tight, it's gonna take a little time to unwind things," Lofstrom said. "My job is to calm the waters."

Throughout those years, he added, the organization also achieved successes to earn the country's No. 8 fair attendance ranking in 2013. Locally, only the fairs in Los Angeles and San Diego counties were ahead, he said.

Aside from the annual summer fair, the fairgrounds maintains a busy year's schedule containing some 125 events, Lofstrom said.

"We know what it takes to move a show in," he said. "We know what it takes to move a show out."

Attendees and planners behind the events — be they gun shows, the weekend marketplace, food truck gatherings, races, the weekly farmers market, a pet exposition or religious and cultural events — contribute not only to the surrounding Costa Mesa economy but Newport's as well, Lofstrom said.

"They are renting the Duffy boats, they are in the restaurants and they are spending in the community," he said.

The fairgrounds expects to receive $36.8 million in revenue in 2013 and have $28.3 million in expenditures, with a net profit of about $8.5 million that will stay on property, Lofstrom said.

"We are a business," he said, "but we use those resources to invest back in the property in projects, programs and equipment."

Fairgrounds employees don't get bonuses for such performance, he added.

Lofstrom said recent developments on the property have included saving the Memorial Gardens Building, a former World War II Army barracks, from demolition and moving it for future use as a veterans exhibit of some kind near the Centennial Farm.

With the removal last year of the Pacific Amphitheatre outer dirt berm, the concert venue is destined to have a new plaza and lobby entrance that will connect the facility to the summer fair. The amphitheater has also greatly improved its sound technology so as not to be a burden to its residential neighbors, as it was years ago, he said.

The fairgrounds is also planning a $35-million parking structure at the corner of Fairview Road and Arlington Drive, with help from adjacent Orange Coast College, Lofstrom said.

He concluded his presentation by crediting fairgrounds staff for their hard work.

"It's because of them that I get to stand here and we get to enjoy the many things we do on the property," Lofstrom said.

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