As of Jan. 1, operations at Napa County Fairgrounds will be ‘sort of’ business as usual.
In November, the City of Calistoga reached a tentative agreement with the county to purchase a portion of the fairgrounds that includes most everything except the Mt. St. Helena Golf Course.
As of Dec. 31, the property and facilities will no longer be responsibility of the Napa County Fair Association. The fairgrounds will be an independent entity not beholden to city or county.
Due diligence is expected to last until the beginning of May. Until then, management of the property will hang in limbo.
Those associated with the fairgrounds say they have never seen anything quite like this in its long history.
“In perspective it’s kind of a historical moment. For the last 80 years, for a large part of that time this body has agreed, on a 5-year rolling basis, to be an agent for the county managing the fairgrounds. That agent relationship ends Dec. 31 and there is no clear road map ahead,” said, Bob Fiddaman, director of NCFA at its last board meeting Dec. 13.
Last May, the county stated their intention to continue operations and assume management of the fairgrounds on Jan. 1. However, the county has yet to communicate any definite plans or take any action towards running the facility.
Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon expressed frustration over the county’s lack of attention to the issue while speaking at a Calistoga Rotary meeting, also Dec. 13. She cited other, more pressing priorities for the county, like fire preparedness.
The issue will become more critical and demand attention once the city’s due diligence in the sale has passed, she said.
“I find it very upsetting too, but (with regard to other county officials) I can’t be a dictator on this,” she said.
Dillion reiterated what the NCFA board has said, that all current contracts with the fairgrounds will continue after Jan. 1.
As for Mt. St. Helena Golf Course, it will remain open and operating hours will not change.
Meeting places for groups like the Rotary Club will continue at the same place, in the Tucker Room.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said the county will honor all existing rental agreements and continue to rent facilities for use, and county staff will be on-site at the Fairgrounds Office in Calistoga. Questions regarding the fairgrounds or the Mount St. Helena Golf Course can be directed to Napa County Fair Staff at (707) 942-5111.
“We’re still working on the details,” Rattigan said.
As for the Calistoga Speedway, located at the fairgrounds, there is no current contract in place, as debt is still unpaid by race organizer Tommy Hunt. Until that debt is settled, a new contract cannot be negotiated. However, since the NCFA will not be stewards of fairgrounds, there will be no one in a position to negotiate a new contract with Hunt.
During the transition to new leadership, board member Karan Schlegel has volunteered to stay on as president for an unspecified time. She will proceed to reach out to the community for help.
The fair board has tried to the best of its ability to continue to serve the community, members said. Still, all 10 NCFA staff have also been given notice to secure new employment.
“There are a lot of questions in the community we can’t answer at this time,” said Carlene Moore, CEO, NCFA. “It’s been hard on our staff, a very tough year. In the end we wound up in a place we never anticipated. In many regards there has been a lot of sadness.”
As for the city’s plans, Mayor Chris Canning stressed that the city has no answers yet as to what will happen with the property and that whatever does happen, it will be a public decision.
Responding to an email inquiry about any employees at the fairgrounds after Dec. 31, City Manager Dylan Feik said, “We do have city employees who work at the fair office and will continue into the new year.”
Several analogies regarding the situation have been knocked around including one from NCFA Board Member Dana Cole, who likened the county to “an absentee landlord coming back to a rambling old mansion, the tenants have moved out, and it’s going into a limbo period.”