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Calistoga wants more time to discuss details of Fairgrounds lease offer

Calistoga wants more time to discuss details of Fairgrounds lease offer

Tubbs building

Calistoga's purchase of the Napa County Fairgrounds is on hold due to financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic.

The City of Calistoga on Tuesday said it needs more time to consider a recent offer from Napa County to lease the Fairgrounds, and will form a subcommittee to negotiate details of the deal.

Sound familiar?

For about four years, a city council subcommittee and the county had been in discussions for the sale of the Napa County Fairgrounds — everything except the golf course — to the city.

The deal was nearly finalized when the crash in financial conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the transaction.

In April, the city projected a $4 million loss in revenue through August, and at the May 7 budget workshop, the city revealed it had slightly less than $500,000 in general fund reserves.

The city and the county amicably agreed that the transaction should not move forward at this time, and the city finalized the termination agreement at a May 5 council meeting.

On May 4, the county sent a letter to the city offering to lease the entire Fairgrounds property, including the golf course, to the city for $1 a year for a period of three years. The lease agreement also included vague plans for a joint master plan. The letter stated the offer is valid through June 2.

On May 12, however, the County Board of Supervisors, with their own financial woes, decided they no longer want to operate the Fairgrounds, and gave Calistoga three money-losing options in which they could take it over to keep it open.

The estimated losses ranged from $156,000 to keep just the parking contracts alive; $304,000 to keep the parking and RV Park operating; or $454,000 to also keep the golf course open.

Though expounding on the importance of keeping control of the fairgrounds for community and emergency uses, city councilmembers unanimously balked at the three options at Tuesday’s meeting.

Vice-Mayor Michael Dunsford pointed out that the city, along with everyone else, is entering into a recession.

“It’s hard for me to wrap my head around $156,000 to make the Fairgrounds available for parking,” he said. “It’s going to take $1 million just to bring it up to ADA standards. I don’t see why we would assume that liability. Basically, we’re back to square one, where we were four years ago with the county.”

Councilmember Irais Lopez-Ortega said the city needs more time to be sure of the terms of the lease agreement.

“I don’t like the pressure. They’re not giving us enough time to find solutions,” she said.

Mayor Chris Canning said the city has received “an incredible amount” of input from the community regarding the use of the Fairgrounds.

“This council completely understands, knows, and appreciates the importance of the Fairgrounds. We also have a fiduciary responsibility to the town and there are challenges,” he said.

Also at question was any rezoning the county might want, possibly for housing, as part of the master plan agreement. Though the county owns the property, the city maintains rezoning rights.

“There is a considerable amount of concern about entering into a master plan,” said Councilmember Don Williams, adding he would be agreeable to a $150,000 option and resume buying negotiations as soon as possible.

There are also leases in existence for the Tubbs building, the Art Center, and the food bank to consider.

Canning recommended, and councilmembers agreed, to form a subcommittee consisting of himself and Councilmember Williams to negotiate terms of the lease, “the same as we negotiated for the sale. Clearly the concern is the master planning agreement and the impact on the General Fund. In discussions we will at least try to get to some minimum amount of operation.”

Steve Lederer, director of Napa County Public Works joined the meeting on Zoom. He said it’s possible the city could operate the Fairgrounds for less.

“If you come down to visit, we would sit down with you,” he said.

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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