CALISTOGA — The Napa County Fair board of directors is considering ways to talk about how to improve the Napa County Fairgrounds, as consultants prepare a plan aimed at making better use of the Calistoga property.
The board asked consultants to analyze options that include expanding or moving the RV park, using the speedway for a wider range of events, and reconfiguring the golf course.
This look at the fairgrounds’ future was set in motion before the Valley Fire in Lake County sent an estimated 1,000 evacuees to a temporary shelter on the grounds a week ago. The shelter is scheduled to be removed Thursday morning.
The board has hired a pair of consultants, RCH Group from Rancho Cordova and A. Plescia and Co. from Sacramento, to develop a long-term plan that will examine the fairgrounds’ assets, evaluate revenue sources, and look for potential funds and partnerships.
The fairgrounds is split into four areas: an RV park, the Calistoga Speedway, a nine-hole golf course and an event center that includes lawns and about 20,000 square feet of indoor space among several buildings.
The RV park is the fairgrounds’ most lucrative operation by far, netting almost $240,000 in 2014, records show. The speedway brought in about $52,000 that year, while the fair lost $28,000 and the golf course roughly broke even.
Meeting on Sept. 12, fair board members agreed that the annual Napa County Fair is a major community asset and needs to remain a priority. The fair was cut back from five days to one in 2014 after the state cut its annual subsidy of $220,000.
Upgrading the RV park, expanding it into part of the golf course or another area, or moving it to a larger area could increase the fairgrounds’ revenue, as long as the park offers suitable water, sewer and power hookups. The fairgrounds offers 70 RV sites now, but only 24 are full-service “premium” sites that offer shade and full utilities.
Board chairman Bob Beck said there’s a trend toward “lifestyle” RV users who trade in their houses for luxurious RVs costing between $500,000 and $1 million. The fairgrounds’ master plan should analyze the needs of that market and “define the profile of the customer we might serve,” he said.
Moving the RV park closer to the Napa River might provide the kind of experience that high-end RV-ers are looking for, while freeing up the current RV park at the corner of Grant and North Oak streets for other uses, board members said.
Board members also considered using the speedway for additional events beyond racing.
Fair CEO Carlene Moore said concert acts generally aren’t attracted to the speedway because the dirt track separates the grandstands from the performance area in the middle of the track. The speedway’s bathrooms and concession stands need to be upgraded, officials said.
Kerri Hammond Abreu said the speedway is a historic, beautiful track that’s loved by the community as well as racers from outside the area. She said she would “fight like hell” to protect the speedway.
But other board members said that given the uncertain future of auto racing over the coming decades, the plan should at least evaluate how the fairgrounds would function without the speedway.
“I’m interested in what the master plan would look like with or without a speedway,” said board member Bob Fiddaman.
Board members praised the golf course as a beloved, irreplaceable local asset that’s been significantly improved in recent years. They talked about improving it further and increasing the revenue it generates by making the course more difficult, making parts of it more flexible for non-golf activities, offering food service and better bathrooms, and maybe decreasing the course’s footprint.
Fair board members also mused about the possibility of selling or leasing part of the fairgrounds to finance renovations elsewhere on the grounds, but conceded that that decision would be up to the county, which owns the land.
They also talked about improving the park’s entrance. They agreed that the fairgrounds’ chain-link fence perimeter could be made more inviting and welcoming to the community.
The county would want to maintain security and limit its liability, but Beck said he believes there could be a better balance between security and aesthetics.