Fairgrounds swap meet to get new owner

Shoppers peruse offerings at the Orange County Market Place at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
Shoppers peruse offerings at the Orange County Market Place at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
(File photo / Daily Pilot)

The weekend swap meet at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa may soon have a new owner.

On Thursday, the Fair Board gave preliminary approval to transferring the Orange County Market Place lease from its founder, Tel Phil Enterprises of Newport Beach, to Spectra, the fairgrounds’ concessionaire.

The board’s vote was 5 to 0, with directors Ashleigh Aitken, Barbara Bagneris and Richard Ruiz absent.

The directors also ordered Tel Phil to pay $250,000 in unpaid rent and remove its equipment from the property in coming weeks.

Negotiations between Tel Phil and Spectra are continuing, and no transfer terms or plans for the swap meet have been released.

The board is scheduled to finalize the deal next month.

“We’re very excited that the board approved the negotiations,” said Charlie Neary, a division senior vice president at Spectra, a brand formed last year by Philadelphia-based Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team and its arena, the Wells Fargo Center. “We’re excited about continuing the dialogue and coming to a final resolution before the next board meeting, and for all the great things we can bring to the Orange County Market Place.”

Market Place spokeswoman Jill Lloyd said Tel Phil’s owner, Bob Teller, wants to retire from the venture and pursue other interests. She added that Tel Phil as a company isn’t dissolving.

Tel Phil’s transfer of the swap meet comes amid reports of declining revenue and attendance at the event, which the Teller family founded in 1969 under the name Treasures and Trash.

Fair Board member Nick Berardino noted the company’s long-standing relationship with the fairgrounds.

“I don’t think we can ignore or underestimate their contribution during those years,” Berardino said. “It was a great part of the community. Now, it’s time to move on. That’s the way life goes.”

Board member Stan Tkaczyk said the transfer will set a “bridge to go forward.”

“It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey, as we know, but it’s been a good journey,” Tkaczyk added.

Tel Phil’s relationship with the Fair Board took a rocky turn in 2011, when memories and frustrations surrounding former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ultimately failed attempt to sell the 150-acre state-owned fairgrounds to help ease the state’s budget woes were still fresh.

Jeff Teller, Bob’s son and the president of the company at the time, opposed the sale — a view opposite of a majority of the Fair Board. In September 2011, the board voted to evict the company from the swap meet, a decision Jeff Teller compared to a “terrorist threat.” He publicly alleged that the eviction notice was political and retaliatory because of his opposition to the fairgrounds sale.

Tensions eventually subsided, and the board reversed its decision later that year.

In 2014, Tel Phil’s contract was renewed for 10 years, with the option to extend it an additional 10 years. The fairgrounds is expected to receive $43.7 million in rent from the Market Place over that 20-year period.

The formation of Spectra absorbed Ovations FanFare, the fairgrounds’ concessionaire since 1996. Spectra holds the property’s liquor license and provides food services year-round, including during the summer fair, according to fairgrounds spokeswoman Robin Wachner.

A pair of swap meet vendors expressed enthusiasm Thursday for Spectra’s takeover.

One of them, cigar salesman Mike Robbins, said he was “truly amazed” at the “unity” of Spectra running both the swap meet and food operations.

To the tune of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1965 hit, “Do You Believe In Magic,” he sang, “I believe in magic.”