Santa Clara County fairgrounds plans plod ahead
Abraham Andrade, executive director of the Fairgrounds Management Corporation, points to some new signage on a building at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds on May 11, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Plans to revamp the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds into a sports and recreation facility have been progressing for more than a year, but it’s unclear when shovels will hit the ground.

    After more than a year of exclusive negotiations with the San Jose Earthquakes, Major League Cricket and San Jose State University—all of which are eyeing big developments on portions of the 150-acre fairgrounds—more time is needed to hammer out the details.

    Abraham Andrade, executive director of the Fairgrounds Management Corporation, the nonprofit contractor that runs the county property, said agreements to extend the talks with all three organizations are in the works.

    Progress is being made toward establishing a 15,000-capacity professional cricket stadium and a parking garage on a 14-acre parking lot that fronts Tully Road in San Jose. A vast soccer complex for the Earthquakes’ practice use and youth academies that could land on a 15-acre patch of land along Umbarger Road is also still under discussion. That development could also include an additional 18 acres for six public soccer fields that would be managed by the county.

    “We’re deep in the negotiations with both, they’re moving along,” Andrade told San José Spotlight.

    The Santa Clara County Fairgrounds entrance archway has stood at the site since 1956. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    San Jose State, meanwhile, is hoping to create a commemorative track and field facility on nine acres in the middle of the fairgrounds, honoring the legacy of Speed City and the Olympic Project for Human Rights. The project would also include an indoor sports complex.

    The proposals all fit into an effort more than three years in the making to rebrand the underutilized fairgrounds as a sports, entertainment and family destination.

    Major League Cricket is responsible for the funding and development of the stadium, the county is handling the parking garage only.

    Assemblymember Ash Kalra secured roughly $9 million in state funding to help pay for the Speed City project, which will be held until agreements are made and construction begins.

    Though the general shape of some of these agreements are in place, Andrade said it’s too soon to pinpoint specific cost details and timeframes.

    “It’s a very high level of confidence that all three will materialize on the fairgrounds property,” Andrade said.

    Andrade believes as these projects move closer to reality, it will spur more momentum for other projects, including a potential 25-acre equestrian, livestock and agricultural education center. As these activities go live, the revenue generated could help the fairground tackle much needed renovations to current buildings like expo halls.

    No housing at the fairgrounds

    With visions for sports and entertainment facilities, the fairgrounds leadership and county are not allocating any space for transitional or permanent housing for homeless people, which housing advocates want. There are roughly 10,000 people without permanent housing in the county, and 77% of them are unsheltered.

    Andrade said the county has done a lot of work to address the homeless crisis, and is actively pursuing other sites for housing solutions. A portion of the fairgrounds land was previously used for a community health clinic and affordable housing development.

    New signage has been installed around the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    District 2 County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who represents the area where the fairgrounds are located, has been at the forefront of the effort to reimagine the site’s potential.

    “Our residents and their children deserve an area they can use for active recreational events, sports competitions and park activities,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “The urban area around the fairgrounds is densely developed.”

    San Jose homeless advocate Richard Scott said he thinks the county could make space for sports, entertainment and housing homeless people on such a large site.

    “It’s beyond my understanding that cricket fields and running tracks are more important than taking care of people that are living on the streets,” Scott told San José Spotlight. “When they could easily be side by side.”

    The fairgrounds property currently hosts events such as concerts and religious celebrations, and rents out some of its property to paintball operators and utility contractors that need space to park vehicles and equipment. The fairgrounds also hosts off-track betting, as well as bingo nights. It was a county location for large-scale COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, temporary overflow shelter for homeless people and monkeypox vaccinations.

    This summer will mark the return of the Santa Clara County Fair that hasn’t been held since 2019 due to the pandemic. It will run for 10 days, longer than usual, to make up for lost time.

    “It’s the longest fair in 20-plus years,” Andrade said.

    The site will also host its third year of Fairgrounds Live, a free weekly summer concert series with food trucks, a beer garden, night market and games, and free admission, beginning July 12, running for 12 weeks.

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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