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Orange County Fairgrounds officially put up for sale by state

October 8, 2009 |  1:42 pm

The Orange County Fairgrounds was placed on the auction block today in an attempt to cut into the state deficit.

The state Department of General Services issued a request for proposals for the 150-acre property in Costa Mesa, giving bidders until Jan. 8 to make offers.

La-me-fairgrounds-100909-m Earlier this year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed liquidating state properties -- including Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, San Quentin State Prison and three state-owned fairgrounds -- to raise cash to help balance the state budget.

If a buyer is found, the property could be in a new owner’s hands a year from now, said Eric Lamoureux, a spokesman for the state agency.

The Orange County Fairgrounds are the highest-value property listed in a July 24 budget bill that authorizes the sale of state assets as a way to shore up California's finances.

The Orange County Fair Board and Orange County Board of Supervisors each passed resolutions supporting the idea to sell the fairgrounds to a local government or nonprofit agency, saying they wanted the land to remain in local hands and continue to be used for a fair.

Wednesday night in Newport Beach, a group of fair board members and local politicians signed papers to form the Orange County Fair and Event Center Foundation, which will be made up of six members from the existing fair board, two members from the city of Costa Mesa, two members from the county and one public member elected by the board.

The foundation was formed to put together a bid to buy the land from the state, said Kristina Dodge, chairwoman of the fair board and the new foundation. “We don’t want to see it go away, so we’re there to protect, preserve, promote and enhance the fair. We feel like we would be remiss if we didn’t put out a bid.”

But the document filed today shows the state is preparing for the possibility that the land could be used for something other than fairs after it is sold.

“In addition to the initial cash payment for the property,” the document says, “the state will retain the right to profit participation in the property in the event that all or a portion of the property is no longer used for fairground and event uses.”

No minimum bid has been established for the property, though the state is not required to accept any bid deemed too low. The governor’s office has estimated the site could sell for $96 to $180 million.

In addition to selling the fairgrounds, the state plans to raise funds by selling and leasing back 11 state-owned office buildings as well as sell surplus property. Last month the department put the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Institution in Whittier up for sale.

-- Tony Barboza in Orange County