Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - February 12, 2010

Editorial

County fair a winner, but could it be more?

The Alameda County Fair won 52 awards at the recent Western Fair Association's convention and with good reason. The Pleasanton fair is recognized as the "fastest growing fair in America and for the fifth year received more industry awards than any other fair in the U.S. or Canada at the WFA's 87th Annual Achievement Awards Convention in Reno, In addition, last summer's 2009 fair, which enjoyed a record turnout of 434,919 patrons for its 17-day event, received 23 first place honors, 19 second place, eight third place and two honorable mentions awards. Among the fair's 23 first place awards were top honors for its community outreach program, emergency plans, conservation program, children's program, fair promotions and customer service training.

Alameda Fair's chief executive officer Rick Pickering said that winning such awards brings positive recognition to Alameda County as well as Pleasanton. Clearly, the Alameda Fair has become a flagship in its industry and will continue to be a leader in promoting strong community involvement. In recognition of his personal leadership in the fair industry, Pickering was elected to serve a second term as chairman of the California Fair Alliance (CFA). CFA represents the interests and legislative activity of more than 80-plus fairs in California. The Alameda County Fair also received International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) awards for its 2009 fair marketing programs and continues to be ranked in the top 50 fairs in the U.S.

According to www.carnivalwarehouse.com, which covers carnivals, fairs and other events, the Alameda County Fair, with a 21.5 percent increase in attendance, is the fastest growing fair in America, outpacing the top 50 fairs for 2009. Recently released attendance numbers from fairs across the country show that the Alameda County Fair is now ranked 41st on the list of the Top 50 North American Fairs. This is the highest ranking in history for the Alameda County Fair. Of particular note, 19 of the fairs larger than the one here in Pleasanton are state fairs. Unlike those, however, the Alameda fair is operated by the nonprofit fair association, without any tax funding from government.

Over the past five years, the Alameda County Fair has been host to more than 2.5 million fairgoers, 30,000 part-time employees and hundreds of thousands of exhibitors, artists, performers and participators, many from Pleasanton. In fact, the fairgrounds, centrally located in Pleasanton, is one of the city's great assets, offering numerous weekend events and attracting thousands of visitors to the fairgrounds and Pleasanton, many for the first time. Unfortunately, despite all of its activities and exhibits, it's not a major tax revenue source for Pleasanton. Big ticket items, such as RV and boat sales, are generally handled in the dealers' hometowns. Taxes, if there are any in those locations, are paid locally, not to Pleasanton.

As popular as the county fair and other events are, the fairgrounds stands empty much of the time. Except for a public nine-hole golf course, the site and its buildings are fenced off. With Pleasanton now developing its Bernal community park across from the fairgrounds, we'd like to see the fairgrounds better integrated into the community, possibly with an upgraded and expanded amphitheater that could offer regular outdoor shows, much like the Concord pavilion. A hotel and small convention center to attract professional and sales meetings could add to the weekday use of the fairgrounds and its spacious parking lots. Pedestrian overpasses could link the fairgrounds to sports fields and garden pathways across a rebuilt, more attractive Bernal Avenue, which could wind its way through the area. The Alameda County Fair generates a lot of traffic -- and awards -- for its 17-day run each year. Just imagine the possibilities much of the fencing came down and the fairgrounds became a major event center for all of the community it's in.

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