What's Your Vision for the Fairgrounds?

The Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds board has embarked on a mission to revamp the property. Ideas range from gourmet food company incubators to a conference center and new sports fields.


Petaluma used to be known as the Egg Capital of the World. Later it became known as Telecom Valley, as telecommunications companies flocked to the area.

But as we embark on the second decade of the 21st century, what will it become known for now? And can it be that the fairgrounds, located right smack in the middle of town, could help forge this new identity?

The city currently leases the parcel to the Fourth District Agricultural District for $1 a year. In addition to the fair, held each June, the site holds the Petaluma Speedway, Airport Express, Java Hut, two schools and hosts auctions and private events such as weddings.

But with a $1.3 million annual  budget, it only about "breaks even," said fair board director James Burleson, something many say can change with proper infrastructure improvements and investment.

On Wednesday, the board held a special meeting, open to the public, to discuss the fairgrounds' future and how to "monetize" the property while honoring the town's deep agricultural roots.

One idea, brought up by Planning Commissioner Melissa Abercrombie is to build a public market featuring local food manufacturers and restaurants, similar to Napa’s Oxbow Market, that would draw gourmands from all the Bay Area.

“We can’t continue to look at new development only in terms of how much revenue per acre will it generate,” Abercrombie said. “Instead, we need to ask ourselves what kind of value added are we providing for the community…I love the fairgrounds and my family comes here a lot, but you have it make it aesthetically pleasing.”

Among Abercrombie’s other ideas: connect the fairgrounds to the SMART station on Lakeville and D and create a “corridor” for visitors to stroll to the area. Another is turning a portion of the grounds into sports fields.

Building on Petaluma’s burgeoning gourmet and sustainable food movement is an idea that resonated with many at the meeting, including the city’s Economic Development Director Ingrid Alverde.

“Where Petaluma stands out is the food industry and we have some really standout companies,” said Alverde, who was hired in 2011 and tasked with attracting new companies to town and keep existing ones from leaving.

“I would love to see a space that would draw tourists and give local companies a venue…some type of facility where you have space for industrial level product and something that is an incubator for food production companies. People driving from San Francisco are driving to Sonoma for food and wine and are totally missing what Petaluma offers. This could be a real win, win.”

Another idea is converting one of the halls into a large conference center that would be able to host trade shows and special events. The only venues currently available are the Petaluma Sheraton, the Lucchesi Community Center and the Veterans’ Hall on Petaluma Boulevard South, all of which don’t have enough capacity for large events.

Whatever happens, the first thing to agree on is whether to renew the fairgrounds’ lease, which many call unfair to the city since the Agricultural District keeps all revenue from hall rentals and the fair. The fair board says they are willing to discuss an agreement that’s more “favorable” to the city.

“It all boils down to one thing—how do we pay for it? In order to accomplish all these things, we have to have private enterprise come in and build something because the city sure can’t afford it and we can’t afford it,” said board president Burleson.

“But once that is accomplished, we can share revenue and we can make it fair to all considered. We have to cooperate and we have to reciprocate.”

What would YOU like to see the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds become? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Ms P-Town January 18, 2013 at 12:39 AM
I would love to see a venue, like Konocti had, for live stage shows. There are not many (large venue) places to go locally that can host live performances. When the fair brings in concerts, it is absolutely packed! I think it would also bring Bay Area residents to Petaluma for dinner and lodging.
Petaluma Seer January 19, 2013 at 05:40 AM
Wow, Ms P-Town, good idea! We certainly have the local Bay Area Musician Talent to support this type of venue, as well as the interest of locals and tourist interest in attending Concerts. We have so much in the way of local resources to make this happen. We could have local Artisans as vendors at these type of events. Also food vendors and caterers, people could stay over and take a boat ride on our River the next day. The River could monetize for us in adding Boat rides, maybe even add Gondolas as was suggested by a local citizen. This could all work! Thinking out of the box of what would keep Petaluma special and a drawing card of visitors, and locals spending as well.
Bradford A Morris January 20, 2013 at 04:17 PM
Ms P-Town You should be on the city developmental board. Great idea. I go to San Jose, San Francisco, Wells Fargo Center you get the idea so to have a night of dinner and fun. This would help the Sheraton and other lodging motel and hotels, Food industries, On and On like Petaluma Seer said. This is fantastic of what this city need. I sure hope this idea get's back to the people who decide the future of the Fair grounds. It also would allow the Airporter to stay in some part of this site and other existing bussiness there as to not hurt there future. Move the race track futher out in a country area where the noice does not effect the entire city! Unless they could do their event inside. If this was made as big as the SF Cow Pallace The events would be unlimited. The income to the city would be hugh and the people who live here houses would raise in value. Best plan for this city in a long time!
Jolene Sisseck January 22, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Sounds nice and all, dont get me wrong.. But, I live here in Petaluma, because of the small town atmosphere. It's friendly and warm. And if you think Washington Stree iis a mess now. OMG, think of the traffic trying to get in and out of there..... hmmmm. Takes 20 minutes at times to get 6 blocks.
Ms P-Town January 23, 2013 at 03:39 PM
I completely agree about the traffic being an issue. I have been partially in favor of the Target shopping area, only because of the easy on/off freeway access. Without that type of easy on/off access, a venue would truly be a traffic issue. The thing is, we, as a city, still need to find more revenue, and we lack entertainment space. A venue could be just the thing, without having more retail space added to compete with our downtown. It would also be a special event space, instead of a draw of continuous traffic, like a shopping center or the like gets. I do believe if we think outside the box a little, we will all get better results for our city. We cant stop growth, but planning for our development is still an option.


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