Petaluma weighing future of fairgrounds site

  • PC: Pedestrians use the sidewalk at the entrance to the Sonoma-Marin fairgrounds in Petaluma, Tuesday April 2, 2002. The fairgrounds are leased for $1 dollar a year from the city and fair managers are looking for a long term solution to keeping the fair from on the land in an atmosphere of ever increasing land values in the area.
    death wonder whether grapevines might be susceptible given that many California vineyards are planted in oak habitats.
    4/3/2002: B1: Pedestrians walk by the entrance to the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in Petaluma on Tuesday. The fair leases the site from the city for $1 a year.

Sixty prime acres in the middle of Petaluma. Land ripe for revenue-generating development or land to be used to encourage the area's agricultural base?

Board members of the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds and Event Center are hoping the city-owned but state-governed property can be both.

The city began leasing the land to the Sonoma-Marin Fair district in 1936 for $1 a year. Those lease terms are identical today, with the current, 50-year lease running through 2023.

But some would like that to change — for different reasons but the same goal: money.

"It's a gem of a property right here in the middle of our two counties of Marin and Sonoma," said new board President James Burleson during a brain-storming session this week about the fair's sustainability.

The annual five-day summertime fair, with a $1.4 million budget, is break-even financially. The grounds also lease space to a charter school, a preschool, an Airport Express stop, the Petaluma Speedway, Skip Dominguez auctions and a coffee drive-thru hut. The fair and its tenants, including numerous short-term event rentals, each generate about 50 percent of the fair district's income.

Fair officials have for years sought another long-term extension of the lease, arguing that they need the financial stability to assure financing for improvements to fair buildings and facilities.

In the past several years, the fair broached the topic multiple times with city leaders, but met opposition — and sometimes downright hostility — and nothing changed.

Some city leaders have said the land is so valuable to Petaluma it is irresponsible to extend such a lease for the state.

Mayor David Glass, in a previous term as mayor, said the fair board should start looking for other sites, saying: "They're like a tenant that's going to be evicted."

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