Wednesday, October 13, 2004

City center look' for fairgrounds?

By CHRIS G. DENINA, Times-Herald staff writer

Within years, the Solano County Fairgrounds could become a downtown-styled attraction, complete with a main street lined with shops and restaurants - and possibly even a Ferris wheel.

That vision is a change of plans for the Mills Corp., whose earlier concepts for redeveloping the home of the annual two-week fair into a year-round attraction included clustering shops and fair attractions amid parking on the 152-acre site.

Solano County's Board of Supervisors and Fair Association on Tuesday agreed to give the Arlington, Va.-based company six months more to study its new idea of creating a town center. The company's original deadline to submit a more detailed proposal was Friday.

"This is something that's really out of the box," Mills development consultant Brian Clark said.

Mills now has until next April 15 to submit project plans for its so-called The Fair at Solano project along Interstate 80 near Highway 37. The developer will use the time to study such issues as traffic and the effects of the rainy season on the site, plus to gather more feedback from residents, Clark said.

The company opted to revise its project after hearing from people at community meetings, he said.

"They've told us they don't want to see a closed mall that looks like just another mall," Clark said.

Mills' plans unveiled this summer include a sports and recreation area, hotel and conference center, arena, exhibition halls and a recreational vehicle park.

Fair officials still want to raze the fairgrounds' golf course and racetrack, though plans call for a satellite site for betting on horse races.

Under Tuesday's deal with the county, Mills must pay the fair association $10,000 a month to cover project expenses, in addition to an earlier $100,000 deposit.

"I think it's well worth the time and effort," said Solano County Supervisor Barbara Kondylis, District 1-Vallejo. "We want something that's first-class."

For some downtown businesses, the project may create more competition.

Linda Brown, who owns a Marin Street store, said she'd like to learn more about the project and its impacts.

"I don't want to compete against a big chain, but I'm not scared of it, either," Brown said.

Janet Sylvain, who owns a Georgia Street shop, also said she needs more information as a downtown stake-holder. "We're concerned about our efforts downtown to rebuild the heart of Vallejo," Sylvain said.

At Westfield Shoppingtown Solano, a mall in Fairfield, there are fears that a new Vallejo shopping facility may take away business. The mall's attorneys submitted a letter criticizing Mills, saying the developer needs to do a better job providing information to the public.

Meanwhile, Hank Howard of Vallejo said he welcomes the project. "I'm glad they're coming here," Howard said. "I think it's a big movement for this area."

While Mills works on redeveloping the area, the fair association is focusing on its annual tradition, General Manager Joseph Barkett said. "We have every intention of putting on a bigger and better fair each year and in improving our year round events," Barkett said.

- E-mail Chris G. Denina at or call 553-6835.-

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