CALISTOGA — In an effort to maintain assets and ensure the continuation of fairground activities, the Napa County Fair Association (NCFA) board has assigned a transition coordinator to help navigate the pending change of management of the Napa County Fairgrounds.
The board is “feeling the crunch” as the county’s management of the fairgrounds comes to an end in December, without any news of how the transfer of ownership will take place.
With the board vowing to be “proactive,” Bob Fiddaman, a director of NCFA, will join Carlene Moore, the CEO of the Napa County Fairgrounds, in negotiating terms of the pending transition on behalf of the board, and being “as aggressive as possible” to retain fairground assets, it was decided at a Sept. 11 board meeting.
Earlier this year, the county, which owns the fairgrounds, notified the NCFA that it will not renew the contract to manage the property, an arrangement that has been in place for decades. The contract expires at the end of 2018, and the board has been contemplating what its role will be in the future when the county, or the city, take over management of the Fairgrounds.
The Calistoga City Council has been considering whether to purchase the fairgrounds from the county and has made multiple offers, Fiddaman has previously said.
The main sticking points between the City of Calistoga and Napa County are price and how the property is valued based on its zoning designation.
As previously reported, Calistoga is interested in acquiring the property based on its current zoning of “P-Public,” which represents its current use as recreational and/or park type uses, City Manager Dylan Feik said. The county has indicated it would be willing to sell at a price based on a different zoning designation, “highest and best use” of the land, such as commercial or residential zoning, he said.
No purchase prices or terms of agreement have been discussed publicly, but Mayor Chris Canning said early on in the discussions that the two negotiating parties were “far apart” in their numbers.
Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, whose district includes Calistoga where the fairgrounds is located, said previously that she is in favor of selling the 70-acre property.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and there are many details to work out regarding the county’s action. But so far, no one is talking about them.
“There’s not a lot of conversation taking place around the transition (of management). We need to find out where the city and county negotiations are, and should be talking to both sides,” said Moore.
The appointment of the new coordinator was made with anticipation of “some kind of fight between the county and the city,” Fiddaman said.
The board said at the meeting it has many concerns about the transfer of management, including retention of assets, employees and oversight of pensions, and the continued running of events at the fairgrounds.
The main concern and goal for the board is to be able to financially continue operating the summer fair and other events.
The board would like to have a clear list of assets and liabilities in place by October.
“We can’t go forward next year if we’re broke,” Fiddaman said.
Board member Bob Beck agreed.
“We can’t just close the door and walk away,” he said.
The current use of the roughly 70-acre property includes the Mount St. Helena Golf Course, Calistoga Speedway, RV park, and event spaces, as well as a necessary emergency shelter.
Though the property is owned by the county, the NCFA board and Moore plan and execute events such as the popular Fourth of July parade and festivities.
The fairgrounds has been struggling financially since 2012, when the state cut funding to support fairgrounds in the midst of a long-running economic crunch. At the same time state funds were cut, the facility was dealing with aging infrastructure and the industry-wide drop in attendance at fairs, along with an archaic legal structure that made it difficult to borrow money or enter into long-term contracts with outside parties to run the facilities.
In October 2016, Moore approached the county and the city of Calistoga asking them to consider a Joint Powers Agreement to jointly oversee the property. Those discussions were almost final when the October 2017 wildfires hit and changed the county’s focus.
This story has been amended since first posting to clarify the role of the Napa County Fair Association which manages the fairgrounds.