A Case Against the Ventura Fairgrounds Development Proposal
By Sophia Barnett
As you may have already heard, Pacific Sports Group (PSG) struck a $25,000 deal with fairground officials, obtaining exclusive rights to present a large-scale development plan to rebuild and expand the Ventura fairgrounds. Under the motto “let baseball return to Ventura,” PSG is lobbying to completely redevelop the Ventura beachfront.
PSG intends on building a strip mall on the beach, in addition to their baseball stadium. In order to revamp Ventura into a hotspot tourist destination and attract projected “higher end users” as stated in their 25-page handout, PSG would build all of the following structures on the land that the fairgrounds currently occupies:
- Retail and dining venues
- 5 convention halls
- 516 more parking spaces
- Flex space for the fair
- Office spaces
- A players club
- A transit center
- A rodeo arena 25% bigger than the current one
- Fairground headquarters
- Rodeo grandstands, increased by <1000 seats
- Stadium grandstands, increased from 5500 seats to 7500 seats (pages 11-18)
By pushing stores and restaurants onto the beach and erecting big complexes and stadiums, they hope to attract a much bigger clientele than what the fairgrounds currently draws. But what does that mean for the locals?
Limited beach access, more traffic
For locals, this means more foot traffic, more cars, and more people. Although there will be more fairgrounds parking, there will not be more beach parking, which fairgrounds overflow parking would potentially dominate during busy seasons.
With an influx of people and a rise in events at the new stadium, beach access will be restricted for locals. Surfrider has worked for decades to restore the beach and ensure that beach parking remains in the Managed Retreat plan. During the annual Ventura County Fair every August, public beach access is blocked for two weeks. Since large events will be regularly scheduled for the new complex, it is safe to assume that PSG may similarly close beach parking as is done with the county fair. Beach parking may also be used for horse trailers for the new rodeo, limiting strained parking availability even further. PSG has demonstrated that they are not considering the beach as a revenue generating part of their plan to privatize the public lands.
If you surf the point, you’re looking at crowded lineups. If you like cruising down the bike path through the promenade, expect to stop for crowds. Or simply driving through the area, you’ll most likely experience bumper to bumper traffic during events, exhibits, and venues. In fact, PSG has set their sights on making the stadium complex big enough to rival the Santa Barbara Bowl (page 6). They even mention that the transit center would be great for conveying crowds from LA if the city was to host the Olympics in 2028 (page 12).
High cost, high debt
The cost of building such a complex is astounding, and the PSG isn’t footing the whole bill. The total cost is $318,575,300.00, but per their handout they will only “account for nearly 70% of annual revenues and 50% of annual expenses for the Fairgrounds” (page 22). They do not specify which entity would cover the remaining expenses.
“There is a decades-long, evidence-based consensus among economists — conservatives and liberals alike — that stadiums are economic development losers.”
-Arlene Martinez, Guest column: Let’s not strike out chasing a Ventura County Fairgrounds stadium, VC Star
As Arlene Martinez of the VC Star points out, stadiums are an economic drain on the city in which it is built. Building bigger and better stadiums and complexes are painted with vague promises of prosperity, but more often than not, they materialize as a weighty expense that never gets paid off.
Decrease in business at local restaurants and shops
The expanded retail and dining venues in the complex would ultimately pull business away from classic local restaurants and stores, such as Cafe Nouveau, which has been owned by many different family restaurants since the 1950s, or Casa De Soria Mexican Restaurant which has been around since 1958, or Tony’s Pizzeria since 1959. Consider classics like Paradise Pantry, Rumfish y vino, Cajun Kitchen, Rice by Mama, or Himalaya Restaurant–would these be rendered inconvenient, being too far of a walk from the beach?
The complex development has repercussions on the environment, though mitigable if handled properly. Increased traffic usually translates into a higher amount of litter, which could congregate on the beach or the Ventura River. Bad news for the wetlands, which need protection.
The bird population would also be affected. In a brief discussion regarding what impact the development and its construction might have on the bird population of the adjacent Willoughby Preserve and river delta, Mr. Kinsch stated that light emitted from the stadium complex could alter the migratory patterns of birds that frequent the area.
“The Ventura River delta is an important stopover on the Pacific Flyway and we are concerned that the increased use of lights could affect migrating birds such as duck, geese and terns.”
-Vince Kinsch, President of Ventura Audubon Society
For more information, check out Birds Sleep Outdoors (and Can’t Cover Windows).
Construction on the fairgrounds is projected to last 6 years, meaning that locals would experience sustained noise, light, and air pollution while on the beach for this entire time. Relaxing on the beach would be difficult to do with the constant drone of heavy machinery in the background. For 6 years, this would be a reality.
Another environmental concern is rising sea levels. With this imminently approaching, it is concerning that the PSG does not detail any plans for infrastructure or methodology to accommodate this in the future. After witnessing the destruction of Santa Cruz in the recent storms and king tides, beachfront property owners need to be prepared for similar occurrences in Ventura. This is a responsibility the PSG has neglected to assume in their construction proposal.
Revenue prioritized over the community
We encourage everyone to read the PSG handout and decide for themselves whether or not this would be beneficial to the local community. PSG states the following as their main priorities, located on page 3:
“[To] treat the Fairgrounds as one ecosystem where activities are complementary and aligned with the purpose, mission, vision and values of the Ventura County Fairgrounds & Event Center.”
“ [To] create an environmentally and fiscally responsible land use plan for the Ventura County Fairgrounds & Event Center, aligning with the purpose, mission, vision and values of PSG.”
“The Ventura County Fairgrounds is a timeless community treasure where all have the opportunity to flourish, connect and interact through exceptional year-round experiences.”
In all honesty, turning the fairgrounds into more of a centralized community center and civic hub is a great idea. Fostering community and bolstering the economy are great aspirations, and if it was carried out to be exactly this, the development could create favorable results. But padding goals with phrases like “environmentally responsible” and “one ecosystem” aren’t enough to assure us of their good intentions without giving any environmental protection or conservation goals. It’s a good start, but there’s no evidence to support their claims.
The complex would bring in lots of out-of-towners looking to be entertained, and the stadium would attract crowds of people not local to Ventura. It's a known fact that developers prioritize the bottom line. Who’s to say that this wouldn’t turn into a big crowded shopping mall to generate more revenue for PSG? Why not wait for a more local-friendly, eco-conscious plan to optimize the fairgrounds land? It’s the last waterfront land up for grabs in the city, and it rightly deserves the highest consideration and best thought-out plan.
It should be mentioned that the PSG alludes to environmental protection in one location of the handout with this statement on page 13:
“PSG is dedicating 1,000 s.f. Sub-Station for the Ventura City Police, 24/7 Fairgrounds security and community-based conservation groups.”
No specifics are provided of how this partnership with security and local law enforcement would work, neither in shared goals, responsibilities, or objectives. More information on this would be greatly appreciated so we could visualize how these entities could collaborate.
The last point I’d like to touch on is the history of baseball at the fairgrounds. It is true, the fairgrounds did have a minor league baseball field in operation from 1948 to 1955 called the Babe Ruth Field. PSG asserts that a baseball stadium and shopping complex is the answer to E.P. and Orpha Foster’s dream for the land to be a “beautiful waterfront gateway to the town of Ventura, where families could walk, picnic, and enjoy family outings” (History of the Ventura County Parks Department, page 8). But that’s just the thing–the point already is a thriving waterfront gateway for the city.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone for a sunset walk to see people parked at the point, still in their suits from work, just enjoying the view and breathing the fresh air. Or how many friendly faces I’ve seen congregating at MadeWest. Or how many skateboarders, bikers, and joggers frequent the promenade. Families communing on the beach with their kids squawking on the shore is a usual sight even in the winter months.
Furthermore, tradition doesn’t necessitate validity. Just because something was done 70 years ago doesn't mean it should be done again today, and the logic of tradition always being the best way isn’t sound reasoning to stand by.
Developers have and will continue to monetize the fairgrounds for private profit under whichever lens suits them. It was attempted with the Centerplex in 1996, is being done now with PSG, and will most likely happen again. Even members of the board doubt the beneficially of the PSG proposal, as evidenced by Fair Board President Leah Lacayo as quoted in the VC Reporter:
“This looked like something you might put in the middle of Hollywood or Burbank. I just don’t see it in Ventura.”
-Fair Board President Leah Lacayo, quoted by the VC Reporter
Protect Ventura, come to the hearing
We all know Ventura is a hidden gem. We’ve retained soul and character, escaping the concrete commercialization that many other southern Californian beach towns have fallen prey to. This complex would harken the end of our singularity. Take Santa Monica, Manhattan, and Huntington for example. Thronging with tourists, daily beachside parking rates of $20 or more, surf spots choked with people, and very high costs of living are all definite realities in these cities now.
Under the historical guise of “let baseball return to Ventura,” PSG desires to profit off of our city by over-developing the fairgrounds. Although a new baseball field may be nice in theory, it’s not just a baseball field–it’s a beachfront strip mall complex with a stadium. There are many hard truths to consider: beach access would be limited, parking constricted, traffic increased, and the surf spots crowded. Given the debt that stadium complexes acquire, the high cost of construction and maintenance would be a heavy burden. We’d see a decrease in attendance at old local favorite restaurants and shops, their businesses drawn to the new beachfront stores. And there are environmental repercussions to consider if not planned properly: protecting the wetlands from litter and misuse, protecting the flight patterns of migratory birds, and accommodating rising sea levels. Given the evident lack of consideration for what the local community truly wants–to maintain anonymity and preserve our identity as a unique surf town–it might be safe to assume that PSG is not a good fit for the fairgrounds.
So what can you do?
Great question! There's two things you can do: come to the PSG presentation on February 22nd at 5:30pm and/or send an emailto the VC fairgrounds board of directors to let them know your thoughts. Join with others to protect the community and speak out against the new development proposal.
RSVP here to help give us a better idea of how many people will be in attendance.
Location: 10 W Harbor Blvd, Ventura, CA 93001 (in the Santa Rosa Building).
We look forward to seeing you there!