This old fairground could get the biggest indoor sports facility in the Sacramento region


Placer County’s tourism agency is close to finishing the first stage of a project that could eventually bring a huge indoor sports and events complex to the county fairgrounds in Roseville.

It is modernizing the fairgrounds’ historic buildings and could eventually add 130,000 square feet of indoor sports and event space to the 61-acre facility in central Roseville. The new buildings and fields would be able to host trade shows, concerts and graduations in addition to having locker rooms, offices and concessions to accommodate basketball, volleyball and wrestling tournaments and competitions.

The more modest first stage of the project, slated to finish in December, involves renovating existing fairgrounds buildings.

The tourism agency is working on an environmental impact report for the larger vision of a sports complex. A timeline for that part of the project will become clearer once it gets the final sign-off from the county.

Once the historic meeting halls are renovated, they will be used for corporate meetings, fundraisers and local social events, said David Attaway, director of Placer Valley Tourism, a business district that draws fees from 23 local hotels to promote the Roseville-Rocklin-Lincoln area to tourists. The agency is building the project. The renovated fairgrounds campus will also host dog shows, small concerts and the annual Roseville Berry Festival.

“We love it,” said John Javidan, producer of the berry festival through Johnny 5 Productions. “They gave us a tour last week, and (the buildings) look beautiful.”

He said he didn’t mind the old buildings, but previously “they didn’t look so good aesthetically.”

“We like to up the service of our event every year and the facility being better will be a part of that,” he said.

He said the berry festival will be the first big festival at the rehabilitated fairgrounds, and he thinks curiosity about the project will help break the attendance record of 20,000 set at the May event this year.

The planned sports complex would cater to youth travel teams, a growing sector of the tourism market, said Placer County Economic Development Director Sherri Conway. According to WinterGreen Research, the U.S. youth sports market is currently worth $15.5 billion and projected to hit $41.2 billion by 2023.

Officials are counting on attracting major youth tournaments by offering what would become the region’s largest space for indoor sports. There is high demand in the area for a space that caters to basketball, volleyball and wrestling, according to a feasibility study commissioned by Placer Valley Tourism. Several venues for Futsal – a version of indoor soccer – have opened in recent years, but the region still needs a tournament facility, the study said.

“We do know that the folks that are associated with the youth travel teams are affluent and well-educated,” Conway said. “When they travel, they don’t just travel with one parent, it’s often two parents and siblings and sometimes grandparents.”

Bringing the whole family opens an array of other opportunities for dollars to be spent in the county at hotels, restaurants and retail businesses, she said.

“One other thing it’s important to make note of is often times the family that’s coming here with a child who’s participating in sports – they’re a first-time visitor,” she said. Sporting events can be “gateway events to the region ... People come to learn that we have a fantastic wine trail, beautiful downtowns.”

Other cities around the region have turned to youth sports as a way to drive up tourism. Elk Grove is building an aquatics center that will be able to host competitions. The city is also considering annexing land to build a multisport complex with 12 soccer fields, four training fields, a playground and a running path. No action has been taken on the project since 2015, according to the city’s website.

A July article by U.S. News and World Report describes youth sports complexes as boons for the areas that build them, but warns that so many cities and counties are getting the game that there could soon be too many of these facilities.

The Placer fairgrounds facility upgrade is a collaboration between Placer County and Placer Valley Tourism. Placer County will kick in $2 million for the renovation after Placer Valley Tourism has spent at least $6 million, Attaway said. Placer Valley Tourism will fund its contribution to the project by issuing bonds anchored by the organization’s fee structure. Each member hotel pays $6.50 per room stay into the agency’s coffers. He said Placer Valley Tourism estimates the sports complex will cost between $30 and $34 million.

The first stage of the project, the renovation of the fairgrounds and its existing buildings, includes elements meant to showcase Placer County, said Attaway. Granite from an old Placer County quarry was brought to the site to create outdoor seating. The full project will have elements of the county’s gold mining and agricultural history as well, he said.

The project is called @ The Grounds, which Attaway said respects the original use of the land – a fairgrounds – while making it clear the space is for more than fairs.

“We wanted to honor the heritage, because a lot of people have invested time and energy over the years to make the fairgrounds a special place,” Attaway said. “(The name is) contemporary but it also honors the past.”

In the midst of renovating Jones Hall, workers uncovered some tile work from the 1940s that had been painted over. They took out a drop ceiling to reveal a “beautiful wood ceiling structure,” he said.

“Some of us look at this as an opportunity to create a generational impact,” he said. “(The fairgrounds have) been there 80 years and we would like to see it there for another 80 years.”

One of the buildings in the fairgrounds, Jones Hall, is the largest publicly owned space in south Placer County at 10,993 square feet. Heather Hilton, director of sales for the Larkspur Landing hotel, said local hoteliers are excited that the future event space that will be able to host larger events. Hotel guests brought by the project are expected to account for 28,000 to 30,000 more paid nights.

“This is something that this area has been wanting,” said Hilton, who sits on the board of Placer Valley Tourism.

The fairgrounds used to receive money from the state for operations and maintenance, but that support dwindled during the financial crisis of the late 2000s. Funding resumed in 2013, but at a much lower level, according to a county press release. Placer County had to put $200,000 toward maintenance in 2015 as the association running the fairgrounds struggled to stay open.

Placer Valley Tourism was looking for a place to build an indoor facility for sporting events and conventions around the same time Placer County launched a revitalization committee to look at what could be done with the fairgrounds, Attaway said. They agreed to combine forces on the renovation and expansion project.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison