As County Fair opens, its new CEO talks about Pleasanton's big event

Favors more race dates at treasured, popular racetrack

Jerome Hoban has recently passed his first year as the Chief Executive Officer of the Alameda County Fair and Fairgrounds since replacing Rick Pickering who left in December of 2012.

Hoban worked at the Orange County Fair for over 20 years in the areas of Fair Management and facility operations. Jerome's experience includes master planning, facility maintenance, marketing, sales, community relations, sponsorships and competitive exhibits.

Hoban is a graduate of the College of Agriculture Business at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, as well as Pepperdine University where he earned his Master's in Business Administration.

Hoban lives in Pleasanton with his wife, son and daughter and took some time last week to talk about his time at the Fair and what the future might look like.

How has everything gone in your first year?

It has been one full year and I think things have gone exceptionally well. It's a great board to work for, great community and I am living in the community so we are very integrated. I am more and more impressed with the staff and the property, we have such beautiful grounds. We got a lot of stuff done in one year that I wasn't sure we'd be able to get done so quick.

What was the biggest challenge or biggest adjustment for you?

I left a lot of family behind – my parents are in Orange County. That being said, everything else is better. It's nice having a four-minute commute. I used to be 45 minutes to an hour on the freeway and even though we are in a drought up here, it is still way more picturesque than anything in concreteville.

What's the possibility of Pleasanton getting more horse racing dates?

Of course we are not necessarily the authority – the (California Horse Racing Board) is – but it always is the hope that we are making these efforts in partnership with Oak Tree to broaden horse racing in Northern California and if we are allowed to be a part of that, I think it would be great. That is obviously everyone's thinking and goals because if it wasn't, we wouldn't be making these efforts. We want to see a change. We want to see something new and Oak Tree is a great partner to do it with. It really comes down to what CHRB wants to do, but if they are willing to entertain that, we want to be part of the discussion and I am sure my board does to.

So if this was a possibility, you would be in favor of it?

Absolutely. Another way to look at it this is we have a multi-million dollar asset sitting out there that is not being utilized to its fullest. To make that make sense, a dedicated 50 acres on this property to horse racing, but to only be used 12 days a year that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I would also say that I think that the more opening days we have in Northern California the healthier horse racing is going to be. If we can come back and add more opening days – not sure when it would be, spring or fall – that would really be a neat thing to do.

Does the partnership with Oak Tree enhance the possibility of more racing days coming in?

I think it does because Oak Tree is a partner like us in that we are both non-profits and all of our money is being spent in a direction to strengthen the racing. It's a bigger probability because we will share the risk with someone else. It's a risky business – I can't say anybody is out there getting rich in general out there – we are just trying to make a living. I think it enhances the probability because it creates a financial partner with us – less risk for both parties to take a chance and make it successful.

But we are very cautious talking about something before it is a done deal. It's an industry wide discussion and we would hate to start the discussion prematurely. I know and believe by and large this community supports the fairgrounds and the racing and if it is done responsibly, we will have good hometown support for it. But the discussion is really an industry discussion because horse racing is about the financial feasibility – how many horses we have and the dates available. It's a very complex web to talk about.

What's new for the Fair this year and moving forward what do you see?

One of our first actions this year was - obviously this fair has the distinct pleasure of the dates – being able to celebrate the 4th of July. The Alameda County Fair gets to do that. The big change this year is that we are bringing fireworks back. It's the first time it has been done in 14 years and we are very excited about it. We have a great partnership with the Alameda County Sherriff's Department and they are supporting us in this effort to have a great, safe 4th of July night.

We will do our show on the track like we always have, but this show is going to be choreographed to music and video. It is really being built to the people that are coming to the Fair to watch the firework show from the grandstand. This meant we slightly lowered the show so you can see it from the grandstand rather than having the fireworks bursting way above the grandstand.

As well as every single night we will have a tribute to Alameda County which is a patriotic video music production that will culminate with a patriotic song. That will be on the concert lawn every night after the concert about 9:45. All of these things are in an effort though just like our theme – Taste the Red, White and Blue – to celebrate the country's holiday which I think is a no-brainer.

How much work with the city of Pleasanton went into the 4th

I have been meeting regularly with city staff, but most of this coordination was done with the Sherriff's Department. We have always been open on the 4th– we just haven't had our fireworks show. We had our fireworks show on Fridays but this year with the 4th shift, we will remain open.

The concerts are starting later this year, right?

The concerts are an 8 p.m. show. We are trying to move it a little bit later in the evening so it gets dark and you can have a more theatrical show and the spotlight of July. Only Del Mar Fair and the falling on a Friday it was the perfect time to make the actually spotlights the artist. It's a beautiful outdoor venue and with the show later in the evening, you won't need the shade cloth and you will have a concert under the stars.

We also believe it will create a nice synergy with traffic. Having a show at 7 p.m. created a cluster of traffic getting off or into the Fairgrounds. By moving the concert back a little is allows our daytime crowd, especially those who came for the morning early promotion and are worn out, to head out before their dinner and then a new influx of people that are our concert crowd to head into get their beer, corn dog and a concert. It splits the shifts and we are hoping to create a better flow out on the streets of the city.

What else might we see either during the Fair or the rest of the year?

For the Fair, one of the other fun things we are doing is the Action Zone. Last year we had the motorcycle jumping and we are increasing those to 3-4 shows a day. In between will be segmented in is a 3-4 high dive shows so there is always going to be something going on in the Action Zone and we are excited about that.

We are also having an opening ceremony every single morning at the race track with a California Crush Clydesdale hitch. It is a six horse hit of Clydesdales that will tow a wagon. They will bring in the colors every day, and we will have the national anthem with different non-profit groups. That will take place 30 minutes before the first post. After that the Clydesdales will go out on the Fairgrounds for a tour and that will be really cool.

Then outside of Fair, the Board has been working on strategic planning for the future – what's the Fair going to be, what does it look like, what are business segments we need to work on, and what does the customer think of us. That is something we work on throughout the year. It points us in a direction as to what improvements need to be done to the facilities – should be remodeled or what should we get rid of and that's exciting things that are happening.

Are there specific plans for any of the structures - more barn space or even a hotel perhaps?

All of which you have mentioned have been discussed and kicked around. The idea is a strategic plan which gives direction in how we think and use land more effectively. But it doesn't give specifics to say build a hotel - it just says this is an area where commercial development might be synergistic with the Fair and the community. This is an area that is doing very well in the industry trend and says you should look more closely at this industry. It doesn't get real specific on building to building.

How does the staff work with cities outside of Pleasanton?

One of the big things we did this year we put out a ticket to summer learning. It was a free ticket to every single elementary school aged student in all of Alameda County. Hundreds of tickets went out and they went out this week to all the schools because we want everyone to understand this is not just a fun place but it can be educational as well. The kids can come out and learn a lot of stuff and not just think that is where you go for a corn dog. We are always making sure we are open to all areas of Alameda County.

The Goodguys and Scottish Game are tremendous revenue makers for the city of Pleasanton. Are we looking at more major events and how do we expand on that? Does the actual fair itself benefit Pleasanton?

Absolutley. All of the normal things you think about – hotel, restaurant business and downtown – you can tell when you go downtown in Pleasanton on a Friday night of Goodguys there are hot rods everywhere – they are using the amenities the city has to offer. These shows that pay the income tax on the different vending that they do trickle back to the city in some way. The satellite wagering as well as the horse racing - there is a portion of the handle that is actually paid as a tax back to the city.

The hometown that the Fair sits in – Pleasanton – does reap a nice benefit of the economic driving force of the Fairgrounds. In the future, it's obvious. This is a nice place and we fill buildings with small shows. We will take anyone that needs or wants to rent from us, but our large scale festival events such as Goodguys or the Scottish Games are big and we would love to host more of those, but there are only so many weekends available with good weather which means we also want to turn our focus to our buildings during the winter months.

Another big item that has come to the front the last couple of years is these 5K runs. They are very popular and we are a prime location for them. I think we had 4-5 in the last year. They use the whole facility – they park a lot of cars and those people use the amenities in the town.

Horse racing starts tomorrow. Dates for comng races are Friday through Sunday, June 26-29 and July 3-6. Post times are 1:15 p.m. except Fridays when post time is 2:15 p.m.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Jun 18, 2014 at 11:29 am

Great facility. Mr. Hoban is working to fill some big shoes, but looks to be on the right path.

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Posted by mac
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Jun 21, 2014 at 9:56 am

It is a long way from the "Red Gate" to the "Yellow gate" and the shuttles are great when they are running. But only during racing??? The fair exist for everybody, but seniors and handicapped have a real problem. The motorized wheel chairs are not an answer for most. People only want a short ride, and most can walk with in reason. The argument that safety is an issue, only points out that proper training for ALL electric cart operators should be required. safety can not be an issue on some days, but not others.
(Gravity, like safety is always with us, and must be considered, and dealt with) Proper training, and running the shuttles every day, would be much safer, but that considers that safety is the problem rather than an excuse.

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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Jun 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

It's also a very long way to Tipperrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaary...

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Posted by Burtkauf
a resident of Danville
on Jul 5, 2014 at 11:59 am

Fair is changed drastically last few years. There are no more family. Sjow
S, noon oldies, for the older and very young you're more towards teenage 20s and 30s and there's only one showing -missing two shows and now it is very crowded seems like things are more commercial

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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Jul 5, 2014 at 5:51 pm

I always enjoy seeing livestock at the fair and how beautiful they can be. I just don't appreciate the idea of snuffing them so that they can be eaten. I don't eat much beef or pork but I do eat lamb and chicken.

Now I would most certainly attend the fair if I heard that somebody like Padre Pio would show up to fly way up in the sky and be at different place/cities at the same time...duh...

I heard about the flying story at a dinner gathering in my home and my ears just about flapped off my head. I'm not totally unfamiliar with such stories but I must say that I'm not a fan. I'm the kinda person who understands spiritual matters but flying in the sky and showing up here 'n there...a bit much for this one! somebody must a bit coo-coo...

i rest my case...

Like this comment
Posted by Myanklehurts
a resident of Birdland
on Jul 6, 2014 at 1:40 pm

My family went to watch the fireworks from our old watching grounds on Valley Ave at the grass on Bernal Corporate Park.Too bad the management owners for the Park did not tell their landscaper to be sure the water was OFF for the return of the fireworks!!! We got soaked- the sprinklers went ON right before the finally! I twisted my ankle! Thanks Bernal Corporate Park and your Landscaper!!!!! Someone is sleeping at the wheel!!!!!

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Ridgeview Commons

on Apr 26, 2017 at 8:37 pm

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