The Solano County Fair Association will begin exclusive negotiations with Mills Corp. to redevelop the Vallejo, Calif., fairgrounds. It would eventually spell the end of more than 50 years of live racing at the San Francisco Bay-area facility.
The Solano County Board of Supervisors, which along with the fair board and the city of Vallejo had earlier lifted deed restrictions on most of the 152-acre site to allow redevelopment, unanimously gave the go-ahead Sept. 23 to negotiate with the Virginia-based Mills Corp.
The track, a familiar landmark along westbound I-80 east of San Francisco, has been in operation since 1951. Groundbreaking on the development project isn't expected until regulatory approvals are complete, a process expected to take at least three years, according to Leon Vann, fair association operations manager.
Prior to the supervisors' meeting, Vann said the fair would continue to race at the Solano site until construction no longer allows it. After that, the fair plans to ask the California Horse Racing Board for permission to lease its dates to another site, he said. Legislation signed by Gov. Gray Davis would allow such a move.
Solano County Fair racing runs for 10 days in early July each year. Previously, the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, and the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa, expressed an interest in acquiring more dates. Both plan to add turf courses.
"Our plan is to continue racing at the fairgrounds until the development of the property no longer allows it," said Kim Myrman, general manager of the fair association, in a statement released earlier.
Situated in a prime commercial real estate area adjacent to Six Flags Marine World amusement park, the fair has been under increasing pressure to develop. The fair association approved Mills as the master developer of the site earlier this summer, having selected it over the Guidiville Tribe of Pomo Indians, which proposed a casino, hotel, shopping mall, and convention center. They were the only two developers to respond to the fair's request for qualifications in March, Vann said.
A shopping mall and concert arena is planned for the track and surrounding grounds. The entertainment and retail complex has attracted the interest of broadcasting giant Clear Channel, according to officials. The track and grandstand would be demolished, but Vann said an expanded simulcast wagering facility would be included in the project.
Mills Corp. operates 25 large-scale shopping complexes in the United States.