The Napa County Fairgrounds is on a path to making significant changes to improve its utilization and economic vitality and will consider what those changes will be in the coming months, officials said at last week’s board meeting.
“It’s exciting,” said Carlene Moore, executive director of the Fairgrounds.
There are many options to consider, she said, and she and the board of directors of the Napa County Fair Association, the group that oversees the operation of the Fairgrounds, will be discussing the results of an analysis provided by RCH Group, an overview of which the board heard at its March 14 meeting in the Tucker Room.
RCH’s assessment reported that much of the Fairgrounds, which includes an event center, RV park, golf course and racetrack, is underutilized. But, with improvements, revenue could rise significantly, the report said.
The study reviewed finances for a six-year period from 2010 to 2015, noting the RV park is the only unit that operates consistently at a profit. It generated the “highest amount of annual operating revenue per acre,” the report said. In 2015 it generated $128,801 in operating revenue and averaged $95,848 during the six-year period.
Over a five-year period from 2010 to 2014 the Fairgrounds “generated annual net operating losses in four of the five years reviewed,” the report said.
The main considerations presented to the board are to determine short- and long-term plans for making changes to the entire operation, or making no changes at all.
Among the ideas floated by the study are to create an entirely new RV park along the Napa River geared toward the luxury motor coach user with a new entry. The current RV park could use the Tucker Room as a “community clubhouse” with support facilities.
In creating the new RV park, the design of the golf course would need to be considered.
“We aren’t a true executive course,” Moore said. “Our course is longer than an executive.” The course could be shortened to make room for the new RV park and a potential farm that could be used by a 4-H club or other student groups. The food produced on the farm could be used in food operations at the Fairgrounds.
A potential new golf course could become a “strategic course,” Moore said, which would be all par-3’s with each hole created to be challenging for golfers.
The Fairgrounds does not operate any food service on the property and this is viewed by the report as a revenue-generating opportunity. Options are a café, restaurant, or general store that could be used by the RV park.
The existing kitchen and food service facilities “are inadequate,” the report said, and the event center buildings are in need of repair and upgrades to make them more flexible and more attractive.
The Speedway, while viewed as an important piece of the Fairgrounds, is located in the center and creates a barrier of sorts with the rest of the property. By making changes around the track it would “decentralize it in concept” and help to connect it more with the rest of the Fairgrounds’ activities.
The board will meet again on Thursday, May 12, during a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the options and consider what direction to take. Moore said she expects no final decisions to be made at that meeting given the magnitude of options.
One of the obstacles to making any changes at all is the governance structure the association has with Napa County, which owns the 70-acre site.
By law the county can contract with the association for only a five-year period, which makes it difficult to do any long-range planning, Moore said, and getting funding by any bank for improvements is nearly impossible.