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Calistoga proceeding with Napa County Fairgrounds purchase, but slowly

Mount St. Helena Golf Course in Calistoga

Mount St. Helena Golf Course in Calistoga

The City of Calistoga has a strong desire to purchase the Napa County Fairgrounds, it just might take more time than anyone would wish.

The City Council on Tuesday resumed its discussion of possibly purchasing the entire Napa County Fairgrounds property, expressing sympathy with residents who are frustrated over the length of time it's taking, and the inability of the city to purchase the entire property at this time. But with too many unknown variables at the moment, the city is not in a position to make a further move yet.

“Yes, we have a desire to do this. My position has not changed in six years,” said Mayor Chris Canning. “But we need to do so responsibly. We don’t even know how we would pay for this at this time. We’ve talked about a number of options … and it’s a long process.”

Last year, the city was set to purchase 34.3 acres of the fairgrounds — everything except the golf course. The $7.3 million deal was nearly inked in April 2020 when the economic fallout from the pandemic crashed the bond market and the city’s financial outlook took a dive.

City officials are now moving forward cautiously. As reported in July, the city is on track with investigating financial options, as presented by Urban Futures, the same firm that worked with the city on securing bonds for the purchase last August.

Even with the purchase, however, the property is projected to need a couple more million dollars in upgrades and repairs to make it usable.

The City Council’s continued conversation on the progress of the sale was initiated by Councilmember Don Williams, but cut short at the last city council meeting due to a PG&E PSPS event which terminated power to the city.

At Tuesday’s meeting Williams suggested, “I think it’s time for us to organize an offer that we feel good about to the county.”

Canning countered by saying he’s not comfortable making an offer to the county at this time.

“We are nowhere close to making an offer,” he said. “I’ll meet you halfway and reconvene the subcommittee and gauge the level of interest, but I’m not in a position or comfortable at all in giving the authority to the subcommittee to even discusses an offer at this stage.”

Vice-Mayor Irais Lopez-Ortega agreed. “At this stage, before we make an offer we have to reconvene and see how we’re going to do it.”

Though no formal decision was made, the council agreed to the prospect of reconvening a subcommittee for negotiations with the county comprised of Canning and Williams.  

Community input

Meanwhile, there are those in the community clearly pushing for the purchase.

Councilmembers have been inundated with emails and phone calls from residents eager to see the transaction completed, bolstered by the Friends of the Fairgrounds, a grassroots group with more than 250 members. FOF’s website keeps interested parties informed of the process and provides a platform for ideas and discussion.

Prior to the meeting, FOF submitted input for the council to consider, including purchase of the entire Fairgrounds property, by offering to lease the golf course from the county for $1 per year. They further propose that the City hire out maintenance of the course.

The group also suggested the City Council appoint a five-member commission to oversee the future of fairgrounds property, hire a facility and events manager, and hire a private firm with the necessary experience to run the Speedway and RV Park.

One of the group’s founders, Alexis Shoemate, said on Tuesday afternoon, “After the City Council meeting we will be organizing the next steps of action, including more community gatherings and town halls to leverage the momentum.”

Calistoga High girls soccer head coach Charley Hester, who was hired before a 2020 season that was canceled due to the pandemic, talks about restarting the program.

You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.

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