Gearing up for thrilled stomachs, families strap in for a whirl on another spinning carnival ride at the 1997 Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex in Pomona. As the ride begins, red, blue and green lights mesh and swirl, and riders' screams echo throughout the grounds. / photo by Christie Reed

Gearing up for thrilled stomachs, families strap in for a whirl on another spinning carnival ride at the 1997 Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex in Pomona. As the ride begins, red, blue and green lights mesh and swirl, and riders’ screams echo throughout the grounds. / photo by Christie Reed

text and photography by Christie Reed

Lights from the ferris wheel at fair time are not the only things that look bright at Fairplex. Having just celebrated its 75th anniversary with three weeks of carnival rides, commercial exhibits and lots of cotton candy, the Fair seems to be as popular as its ever been — but it is not enough.

The hundreds of thousands of people who pass through the yellow, blue, green and red admission gates each September and October are not enough to keep 487 acres running 365 days a year according to Sid Robinson, communications manager at Fairplex.

“If we keep things the way they are right now, we will die,” he says. “As much as people will be inconvenienced [by the expansion], there would be a more severe impact if that were the case.”

Although Fairplex seems to be rock solid, the site, when sitting idle during most of the week, is losing money that it could be giving back to the communities that surround it.

To sustain Fairplex and at the same time provide local entertainment possibilities for neighboring communities, Robinson, along with Fairplex staff and Lewis Homes, hopes to develop the grounds into a full-time, year-round entertainment destination.

“We do not want to replace the Fair but add events that will complement what we already do and to help drive business and the hotel [Sheraton] as well,” says Robinson. “Our intent is to make Fairplex a year-round entertainment destination, not just the home of the Fair or weekend events.”

While Fairplex already hosts more than 300 events annually, including gun, animal and computer shows, Fairplex of the future could equate with such hot spots as Old Town Pasadena, The Irvine Spectrum and Universal City Walk, according to Robinson.

Imagine walking along a typical main street anytime during the 1930s to the 1950s. Picture a world’s fair atmosphere where families, friends and neighbors gather. There is entertainment at every corner, with places to shop, food to eat and a never-ending boulevard of things to do and see. It is a fair that never ends.

Lewis Homes Enterprises of Upland, an affiliate of well-known commercial developer Lewis Homes Retail, is proposing to make this dream a reality. The 460,000-square-foot center, known as Paradise Park, will be located inside Fairplex grounds between the Fairplex Park grandstand and the Flower & Garden Pavilion. Lewis Homes Retail is entering into a long-term ground lease with the Los Angeles County Fair Association to develop the project. Construction is anticipated to start in late 1998, with a targeted opening of November 1999.

The first phase of the $100 million development will be the development of approximately 250,000 square feet of Paradise Park, a year-round family-oriented operation that will “encourage customer interaction and participation.” Targeted tenants are multi-screen cinemas, large-screen three-dimensional theaters, live entertainment venues, themed restaurants, retail stores, sports and recreation companies, museums and exhibits.

“We have already met with a number of prospective tenants who have significant interest in the development,” says Randall Lewis, spokesperson for Lewis Homes Retail. “It has been perceived as one of the most creative and insightful projects they have seen presented.

“Location is key to a project such as this, and Fairplex is an ideal location. The area has been called the ‘new heart of L.A.,’ because of its close proximity and easy access to major freeways. In addition, there is a population base of 3.2 million people within a 20-mile radius, plus more than 50,000 college students within a five-mile radius.”

Potential economical benefits include potential tax revenue of $1 million to the city of Pomona, as well as the creation of approximately 1,000 full-time equivalent jobs for the region.

Paradise Park itself will be a themed main street promenade with six districts, including a motorized transportation district, a sports and recreation district, a learning and technology district, a movie and media district, a live performance district and a California Marketplace.

Architecturally, the promenade will have a 1930s Art Deco feel with extensive water features, colorful store fronts, sculptures and icons that represent achievements in California transportation, technology and culture.

James E. Henwood, president and chief executive officer of the Fair Association says, ” This [project] is something the local citizens have expressed a desire for in their community, and it will provide them with a nearby family location where they can go to the movies, enjoy a live stage performance, meet authors at a book store, dine in a variety of unique restaurant settings or meet their friends and neighbors and engage in countless participatory activities.”

Along with Lewis Homes and the Los Angeles County Fair Association, the development team consists of Feola, Carli & Archuletta Architects, Dream Street Entertainment and Richard Orne and Associates. “Nobody knows the market better than Lewis Homes Retail, and we are very pleased to be moving forward with them on this exciting project,” says Henwood.

Construction will result in a re-organization and widening of Broadway, the primary thoroughfare at Fairplex running adjacent to the grandstand. Elements of the Fair that have been in the proposed Paradise Park location will remain inside the gates, but will be moved or woven into the Paradise Park layout to create a festival environment during the 18-day Fair, explains Robinson.

“Paradise Park takes the very best elements of fairs, plus the spirit and optimism that they exude, and combines them in a place where people can come together any day of the year to discover a glorious panorama of achievement, education and entertainment,” Lewis says. “It will be a perfect complement to the other entertainment and development already in the area.”

Lewis Homes Retail and the Fair Association are conducting meetings with officials from Pomona and neighboring cities, as well as with local residents to gain their input during the development process. “We are meeting with people in our neighborhoods right now,” Lewis says, explaining that this type of informal poll has left him with the sentiment that the majority of the locals will support such an expansion. “This [entertainment complex] will increase the importance we have to the city of Pomona. The city doesn’t have anything like this.”

At the same time, citizens have also expressed to Robinson their concerns over increased traffic, parking, trash and noise.

“These problems can be solved,” assures Robinson. An environmental impact report process is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 1998 and will take approximately six months.

“We are talking with the developer right now,” admits Robinson. “But nothing will be done without the full support of the community. The community has to support it for us to do it and for a developer to want to do it.”

“As much as people may be inconvenienced, there would be more of a severe impact if we were to disappear,” explains Robinson. Fairplex supports more than 200 local charities, clubs and organizations. “If Fairplex ceases to exist, what will happen to Pomona,” he asks. “We contribute so much to the community that it would cut into the city’s budget.”

Aside from putting Pomona back on the map in a positive way, the potential entertainment complex will serve as “a place that community residents can be proud of and take their friends and families to a movie, dinner or just out for the evening. Instead of coming for just a couple of hours, people will stay for a whole day,” he adds. “They will stay at local hotels, utilize gas stations – this will boost the economy.”

While Fairplex understands the concerns of its neighbors who live in the multi-million dollar houses south of them, it is not possible for Fairplex, the home of the world-renowned Los Angeles County Fair, to thrive off the revenue it makes from only a few weeks each year.

“We have to develop,” says Robinson. “We can’t just sit idle.”