News Details

Study advises fairgrounds to focus on entertainment

July 11, 2011

By Tony Burchyns
Vallejo Times Herald

Fairgrounds planners should investigate adding a major entertainment anchor such as a Legoland theme park next to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, a study says.

The report, which the Vallejo City Council will discuss at its meeting Tuesday, focuses on the slumping economy and prevailing market forces, saying they don't bode well for retail development in the near future.

The report suggests investigating whether local educational institutions such as California Maritime Academy would have an interest in collaborating on revenue- generating uses for the aging fairgrounds property.

It further recommends investigating whether Six Flags would be willing to pay for and collaborate on operating an interim RV park or other attractions tied to its business.

But the report's key recommendation is to analyze "building on the strength of Six Flags' regional appeal" by adding a major entertainment feature to the fairgrounds, which is across the street on Fairgrounds Drive. The report cites Merlin Entertainment's Legoland theme parks as an example.

The addition could make Vallejo "a magnetic agglomeration of amusement attractions" that could lead to more restaurants and other supporting businesses, the report says.

A Six Flags spokeswoman, however, declined to comment on the merits of the idea.

"Since we don't know the full extent of the city and county's plans, it's too early to make speculative comments," Six Flags Discovery Kingdom spokeswoman Nancy Chan said Friday.

What to do with the property has been the focus of an ongoing planning process by Solano County, Vallejo and the Solano County Fairgrounds Association officials.

Originally, planners envisioned redeveloping the site with an "iconic" retail anchor to attract visitors. But the new report, released last month as part of the planning effort, suggests the economy will remain too weak for big-box options in the near term.

The report also says retail development, even if rendered feasible through generous local-government subsidies, could harm existing stores given the economy's current unmet demand for retail uses.

Therefore, the report recommends considering a "long-term" view about the timing and scale of the redevelopment project.

"Cities that are successful are going to recognize early and figure out how to best capitalize on the 'new normal' " Vallejo City Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes said. Gomes has been part of the public planning process.

Gomes said she agrees that a heavy amount of retail may not be the best option for the fairgrounds. Instead she said alternative uses, including possibly building a sports complex, should be considered.

"I think the fairgrounds presents really exciting opportunities," said Gomes, adding there's a long way to go in the planning process.

The master plan for the fairgrounds project isn't expected to be completed until next summer.