Newest ideas for revitalizing Santa Clara County fairgrounds get supervisors’ support

SAN JOSE — Santa Clara County is considering a revitalization
plan to turn the 158-acre county fairgrounds in San Jose into a
“grand public space” that could feature a 55-acre park, a
museum displaying historic local neon signs and separate sports
facilities for the San Jose Giants, San Jose Earthquakes and USA
Cricket league.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez outlined the broad plan Tuesday, saying
the changes would enhance family-oriented recreation already
available at the fairgrounds while maintaining the site as the

home of the annual county fair
with its related agricultural
activities for groups such as 4-H and Future Farmers of
America.

“This valley is more than 2 million people, Chavez said at
Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “Every place [where] we
have large open spaces, we need to protect them. We could really
benefit from having more family-oriented spaces.”

The county has considered three fairground redevelopment
proposals since 1998, including for music venues, hotel and
commercial spaces and housing, but all have fizzled out.

Earlier this year, some residents asked supervisors to use the
property for transitional homeless housing, with
one Change.org petition drawing about 1,300 signatures.

After the
last round of proposals went nowhere
, the board unanimously
voted Tuesday to back Chavez’s idea of  keeping the fairgrounds
as a community event space.

Asked in an interview before the meeting about calls to add
housing at the fairgrounds, Chavez pointed out the county already
has built more than 500 units of affordable units on 12 acres
there. She also cited a county survey in which 72 percent of 2,100
people said they wanted public meeting and event space at the
fairgrounds.

San Jose Councilwoman Maya Esparza, who represents the
neighborhoods around the  fairgrounds, spoke in favor of
Chavez’s proposal.

“These neighborhoods around the fairgrounds are amongst the
most dense, overcrowded neighborhoods in the city, with over 20
percent of households experiencing overcrowding,” Esparza
said.

The discussion comes as the county’s 15-year agreement with
the Fairgrounds Management Corporation (FMC), a nonprofit formed in
1995 to manage and maintain the fairgrounds, is set to expire in
December.

FMC has received several requests from private developers who
want to lease space at the county-owned property, including
proposals for a 14-acre minor league baseball ballpark for the San
Jose Giants, 17-acre stadium for the USA Cricket league and 23
acres of soccer fields and other facilities for the San Jose
Earthquakes.

The organization is seeking a new 20-year agreement that gives
it the authority to enter into long-term property leases aimed at
generating revenue for fairground operations. In addition to the
proposals for new sports facilities, FMC has pitched a night market
with food vendors and family-oriented activities such as mini golf,
go-karts and climbing walls.

Sameer Mehta, who owns a company called Willow TV that
broadcasts cricket matches across the country, said his company
serves an estimated 400,000 active cricket fans in the Bay Area
alone.

“We’ve seen the sport grow in leaps and bounds in the Bay
Area. The big issue is kids that play the sport don’t have a
location to play it professionally,” Mehta said. “It’s meant
to be a world-class facility and we hope it’d be the center of
cricket in the USA.”

Supervisor Joe Simitian raised concerns about the length of the
agreement, suggesting a 10-year contract instead of 20 years.

The FMC has been criticized over the years for mismanagement,
including by a grand jury in 2011 and
another one earlier this year
that alleged financial
mismanagement and called for greater oversight by county
leaders.

Referring to the mismanagement allegations, Chavez pointed to
recent changes in top leadership at FMC and said she is asking for
contract language that would allow the county to sever the deal at
any time.

“We’re not leaving the fate of the fairgrounds in their
hands, but the Board of Supervisors,” Chavez said.

Chavez’s proposal specifies that funding for the new park
would not come from the county’s park charter fund, which is
already strained, she said.

“If folks are hoping the rest of the site is a cash cow that
pays for open space, then I think we’re going to need to see how
that pencils out, or if there’s another source of funds,”
Simitian said.

The supervisors authorized staff to begin negotiating with FMC
for a new contract and studying Chavez’s proposal, including the
creation of a county park.

Supervisor Mike Wasserman noted the county has been talking
about revamping the fairgrounds for decades, with no tangible
results.

“I think this one has legs,” he added.

Contact Thy Vo at 408-200-1055 or tvo@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Newest ideas for revitalizing Santa Clara County fairgrounds get supervisors’ support