Sunday, June 24, 2007

Expo’s Land Use Decision

In what will be one of the major land use decisions facing public leadership, and the market, over the next decade, decisions need to be made about the best use of Cal Expo.

The arena idea is a bad one without major freeway work on what is already one of the worst bottlenecks in our region.

Editorial: More than a fair
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, June 24, 2007

The California State Fair's facilities, known as Cal Expo, occupy 360 acres of prime land in the heart of Sacramento. All of Cal Expo's operations generate about $30 million a year in revenue. If the fair itself was purring along as an increasingly popular destination, those numbers might not be significant. But they're telling of the overall enterprise and the state of the fair itself. Attendance is down more than 20 percent in five years.

Cal Expo needs more than some modernized buildings and a spiffier monorail. It needs a thorough overhaul. That will be easier said than done, given financial realities. But the way to look at its future is to consider all that land and all that potential for multiple public uses throughout the year.

In terms of land consumption, the horse racing track and its 6,000-seat grandstand are an increasingly dubious use of space. The fair's master plan calls for shrinking the grandstand to maybe 600 seats, the logic of which is not immediately apparent. Given the lack of interest in harness racing, reusing this land should be a high priority. But reusing it for what purpose? Two possibilties are apparent.

One is an arena. Based on a recent story by The Bee's Mary Lynne Vellinga, Cal Expo and downtown are the two sites under study by the National Basketball Association.
Downtown seems to still be the favored site of politically active arena backers, but Cal Expo may surface as the achievable alternative. It has plenty of parking and existing freeway access. While not downtown, the site is central to the region...

…The second possibility is more retail development.

Here the fair has to be extremely careful. Retail may bring in money, but it could simply compete with neighboring businesses, which would be pointless. And any retail has to somehow be consistent with the mission of the fair. Brian May, Cal Expo's deputy general manager, said the fair will explore partnerships with retail developers, which is not a bad first step.