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Cal Expo: No arena deal

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California Exposition and State Fair officials said no Friday to being part of an arena land swap deal.

At the end of a four-hour meeting, the board voted 7-2 against further study of a proposal by developer Gerry Kamilos and the Sacramento Convergence team to relocate the state fairgrounds to Arco Arena in Natomas and to develop the 350-acre Cal Expo site to help finance a new arena downtown.

Board members said they want proceeds from Cal Expo's development to benefit the state fairgrounds and the state, rather than a private company and an arena. The Cal Expo board has already spent too much time studying ideas to modernize the fairgrounds by helping to get an arena built, they said.

"We've got to finally come to our senses and get rid of this arena deal," said board member Steve Beneto.

The latest proposal would have turned ownership and operation of the fairgrounds and the annual state fair over to a private company, VisionMaker Worldwide. The company was founded by former Disney and Universal Studios executives. But a private equity firm, Makan Capital Group based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, bought the company in 2007, according to the company's website.

Under the plan, Cal Expo officials and staff would have had creative control of the fair and ownership of the land. VisionMaker would have returned ownership of the facilities to the state after 30 years.

The board had been willing to consider a proposal to move the fairgrounds if the site was better and brought more revenue to Cal Expo than the existing one, board members said.

"We've been working on this for three years. We have explored one alternative after another," said board member Marko Mlikotin. "Our best interests are served by staying put."

Cal Expo staff have told the developers repeatedly that Arco Arena wouldn't work for the fairgrounds and asked them to propose other locations, Cal Expo General Manager Norb Bartosik said.

The 184-acre Arco site is too small and loses Cal Expo's visibility because it can't be seen from highways. Existing neighbors have also expressed opposition to the fairgrounds relocating there, said consultant Andy Plescia.

But the $400 million arena project is not dead, Kamilos said.

He and Sacramento developer David Taylor and the other stakeholders, which include the city, VisionMaker and the Maloof family, will come up with another strategy that could involve developing the Arco Arena site to help finance building a new arena in downtown's railyards. The Convergence team is considering "a number of options" and will discuss alternatives at a workshop with the Sacramento City Council Tuesday.

The Maloofs, who own the Sacramento Kings, will now work on alternatives to get an arena built.

“We must continue to work hard to find a solution," co-owner Joe Maloof said in a prepared statement late Friday afternoon. "We look forward to hearing what are the next steps and options."

Cal Expo officials must focus on developing or selling some of the existing land to rebuild the fairgrounds at its current location, said board member Paul “Rick” Stacey.

"Maybe that is a public-private partnership," he said. "But on our terms." 


Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.

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