Located in the shadows of thriving attractions like Golfland Sunsplash and Westfield Galleria, Roseville’s 81-year-old Placer County fairgrounds have been left behind in this prosperous suburban enclave.
The 61-acre Placer County Fair and Events Center in its heyday was a premier destination for summer fun, drawing families for pie-eating contests and livestock sales. Founded in 1933 by a group of Roseville businessmen on the outskirts of town, the former rural outpost is now surrounded by housing tracts, neighborhood parks, golf courses and elementary schools.
City and neighbor complaints about traffic and noise have severely restricted the types of events the fairgrounds can host, most notably last year when Roseville officials forced a country music festival to move to Cal Expo. The lack of big events and state cuts in fair funding have dampened revenues and left the nonprofit operator unable to make long-needed repairs and upgrades.
Placer County supervisors are poised to review today proposals to maintain the 61-acre fairgrounds at its current location, possibly with a new operator, or move the fairgrounds to a less urban location.
Roseville Mayor Susan Rohan believes the writing is on the wall.
“I’m anxious for a relocation,” she said. “The fair operation would probably be more successful in a location that wouldn’t have those conflicts. It’s been a challenging situation.”
Still, the issue has been divisive for the community. Some, like Guy Schroeder, president of the Los Cerritos neighborhood association, just want to see the fairgrounds cleaned up.
“It’s just an old piece of property and run down,” said Schroeder, who lives 200 yards from the fairgrounds.
But Schroeder said he doesn’t think neighbors want the fairgrounds to move. They think other potential uses for the land could create worse traffic and parking problems in the area.
“The neighbors are very concerned about what would happen if it moved,” he said. “There’s always rumors.”
Supervisor Jack Duran, who represents most of Roseville, said he hasn’t made up his mind on whether the fair should move.
“I’ll move the fair if it makes sense to move it,” he said. “I need to see the data. I can’t just pull the trigger and say, ‘Yes, let’s move the fair.’ ”
Duran once lived across the street from the fair’s popular speedway and said he recognizes the community complaints. “I could hear it, and I get the whole noise thing. But I wasn’t affected as much as other folks are.”
A county-commissioned report on the fairgrounds estimates that much-needed repairs and improvements would cost $1 million. Moving it elsewhere and starting from scratch would cost roughly $43.3 million, excluding the cost of land, the report finds.
The nonprofit Placer County Fair Association has operated the fairgrounds for decades with little outside support. The organization in recent years has struggled to balance its books, hit hard by cuts in discretionary spending during the recession.
In 2011, the Placer County fair was dealt a significant setback when Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget cuts erased funding for county fairs statewide, representing a loss of about $200,000 in cash and services, according to David Henry, the association’s board president.
“Between the economy and the increased competition for the customer dollar, like all the other fairs, we’ve run into a tough time,” Henry said.
The fair’s 1940s-era buildings are showing signs of age. An old gas line in the kitchen that was replaced last year cost $3,500, Henry said. The association still owes $60,000 on a $500,000 loan used to refurbish the raceway. Under the agreement with the county, the nonprofit is responsible for all upkeep. The association has five paid staffers, but several other volunteers, including the nine-member board, pitch in when needed.
This year, the association is projected to eke out a small profit of $16,000, but in 2013, it ran a deficit of about $200,000.
The fairgrounds host the four-day Placer County Fair each June, as well as crab feeds, tattoo festivals and a haunted house at other times of the year. The group has tried to diversify its revenue streams by renting out storage space and charging RVs $40 a night to park on the grounds.
Henry, who is also co-owner of Roseville Meat Co., began his involvement with the fair as a buyer at the junior livestock auction in 1984. He said it would be a shame to see the fair go belly up.
“Fairs are old fashioned. They’re not electronics, and for a lot of kids, they smell.” he said. “But it’s an education experience: This is where your food comes from.”
Spencer Short, a Lincoln council member, said the fairgrounds would be a perfect fit for his city and attract tourists. One possible location for the fair is on land near the Highway 65 bypass.
“Lincoln does have quite a bit of agriculture,” Short said, noting the acres of rice fields and orchards in the western part of town.
The city of Roseville, which hosts its Fourth of July fireworks show at the speedway, hasn’t taken an official position in the fairgrounds debate. Roseville officials declined to say what they would like to see replace the fairgrounds.
The uncertainty has put the fair in a bind. With the association’s contract expiring in December, Henry said the group has been unable to book future events or plan for the county fair next June.
He worries that Roseville and south Placer County may have lost their agricultural roots.
“The ranchettes are now subdivisions,” he said.