Transforming a decades-old fairgrounds into a multipurpose event campus
Roseville, Calif. – A first-of-its-kind effort on the West Coast to transform a decades-old fairgrounds into a multipurpose event campus has become a model project for the tourism industry nationwide – and a public-private partnership success story.
@the Grounds – and its centerpiece 160,000-square-foot Roebbelen Center – in Roseville has hosted almost 800 events during the past five years, from anime conferences and basketball tournaments to cheer competitions and vaccination clinics. Those events have attracted a combined 550,000 people, with many of them filling hotel rooms, restaurants and shopping centers and generating more than $15 million every year to Placer Valley – or about $75 million since 2017.
“@the Grounds has quickly become the model for other destinations looking to build or renovate similar facilities.”Roxanne Steinhoff, Civitas
Eye-catching results from what had been previously an often-overlooked property formerly known as the Placer County Fairgrounds. The figures are even more impressive considering the COVID pandemic and the statewide lockdown in early 2020, which canceled and later greatly limited event attendance for more than a year at the then-recently completed Roebbelen Center at 700 Event Center Drive.
Symbol of success story
“We showcase @the Grounds across the country as a partnership success story between the tourism industry and the local community, creating a valuable asset for Placer Valley used by both visitors and residents alike,” said Roxanne Steinhoff, Legal Analyst & Sports Consultant for Civitas, a tourism funding firm. “The industry is taking notice and @the Grounds has quickly become the model for other destinations looking to build or renovate similar facilities.”
A forward-looking, what-could-be-possible vision by several community leaders – including David Attaway, the former CEO of @the Grounds and Placer Valley Tourism who died in March – and a unique partnership between Placer County and Placer Valley Tourism paved the way for @the Grounds. Placer Valley Tourism had already attracted more outdoor sports, like soccer and softball tournaments, in recent years, but a multipurpose event center that operates year-round would greatly boost tourism.
“Placer County and the surrounding region have greatly benefited from the evolution of the Placer County Fairgrounds into @the Grounds,” said Placer County Board of Supervisors Chair Cindy Gustafson. “Because of the vision of the late David Attaway and the Placer Valley Tourism team, what was once an underutilized fairgrounds is now a thriving gathering spot for so many.”
The county established the partnership with Placer Valley Tourism – a Business Improvement District between the cities of Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln that receives funding from hotels to promote tourism in the region – to manage the Word War II-era fairgrounds in summer 2017.
The Placer County Fairgrounds name soon gave way to @the Grounds – and a $47 million plan to renovate the decades-old Johnson and Jones halls and improve landscaping, the main parking lot and walkways.
But the biggest and most critical piece of the multimillion-dollar project — financially and physically – was the construction of the massive Roebbelen Center. Construction started in January 2019 and was completed in February 2020, just a couple of weeks before the COVID pandemic arrived and stalled events for several months.
The Roebbelen Center is one of the largest event and meeting spaces in California, able to hold 12 full-length basketball courts or 24 volleyball courts – or almost three football fields. It’s the only facility of its kind on the West Coast.
“It was a big project with a very aggressive timeline,” said Kim Summers, interim Chief Executive Officer of @the Grounds and Placer Valley Tourism. She has been with Placer Valley Tourism since 2008. “Some people didn’t realize the level of quality and what we were really going for.”
Indeed, much optimism was combined with some skepticism of the high-profile and groundbreaking project.
“It sounded like a tall order,” admits Stephen Makis, Director of Personal Lines for Bender Insurance Solutions and Treasurer of @the Grounds and Placer Valley Tourism. “I had been to the fairgrounds and been inside the buildings on the campus and thought to myself, ‘This is going to take a lot of money and time.’ But I also had a lot of faith in David Attaway and knew if anyone could pull this off, he could.”
Robin Trimble, Executive Director of the Rocklin Chamber of Commerce, agrees and remembers being in a meeting “thinking the fairgrounds was not the highest and best use of the property and should be converted” into another commercial use.
Today, @the Grounds and the Roebbelen Center generate much-appreciated revenue for Placer Valley businesses, from Quarry Park Adventures in downtown Rocklin to the restaurants and stores at the Westfield Galleria Roseville mall.
“I am so glad that experts with vision saw the potential and overcame the obstacles to make @the Grounds an amazing and valuable community asset,” Trimble said. “It took faith, patience and persistence to bring @the Grounds to fruition.”
And @the Grounds and the Roebbelen Center are bearing a lot of fruit. @the Grounds averages almost 200 events every year, from corporate meetings and the county fair to a “junk hunt” for vintage treasure seekers.
“With the building being so large, you can really spread out,” said Great Junk Hunt co-owner J.T. Albers, whose events attract several thousand people per day to the Roebbelen Center. The Great Junk Hunt returns for a two-day stint starting Sept. 23. The @the Grounds team is “just as invested to have a successful event as we are. It’s been a great partnership.”
The Roebbelen Center’s flexibility – such as a gymnastics competition one day, followed by a trade show the next – and its size are a big draw for organizers. The biggest challenge is finding available dates for events.
The Santa Rosa-based Northern California Volleyball Association rents the Roebbelen Center for volleyball tournaments at least 12 weekends per year – and would host additional tournaments if more weekends were available, said Donna Donaghy, CEO and Commissioner of the organization.
“We love the building,” said James Hutchings, Show Chair of the Roseville Rock Rollers Gem Jewelry, Fossil & Mineral Show. The organization has been holding the annual show inside Johnson and Jones halls for decades but has moved to the much-larger Roebbelen Center. The 60th Diamond Jubilee anniversary of the show is Aug. 6 and 7. The Roebbelen Center “puts all of our vendors and show features in one place. It was time to move our world-class show into a world-class facility.”
A major amateur sports competition or a large trade show can attract several thousand people, with many coming from outside the region.
The Roebbelen Center is a “huge investment in the community that’s paying off in so many ways,” said Lauryl Hernandez, Chair of Placer Valley Tourism and General Manager of Hyatt Place in Roseville.
The dollars from people attending events @the Grounds have created hundreds of jobs and generate about $5 million in annual sales-tax revenue for the county and the three cities in Placer Valley.
“The economic impact, it’s just amazing,” said Summers of Placer Valley Tourism. “We have fairgrounds that are looking at our model.”
It’s a model – and a one-of-kind partnership between government and a nonprofit organization – that is gaining attention and worth watching, especially as many county fairs deal with declining attendance and less interest to rent their space the rest of the year. @the Grounds could serve as a blueprint for other fairgrounds struggling to survive.
“The Roebbelen Center @the Grounds has gained fame nationwide as an innovative example of the funding mechanism used for capital improvements,” said Steinhoff of Civitas.
The fame follows much success. @the Grounds and the Roebbelen Center are strengthening the local economy and meeting the needs of residents, including serving as the county’s largest COVID vaccination clinic for several months when the vaccines first became available.
“Our region has gained a beautiful place to hold events, meetings and play sports,” Makis said. “And as time goes on, we are seeing more people from all over the United States visiting our region. The goal of Placer Valley Tourism is to improve the health of the hotel industry, and @the Grounds and the Roebbelen Center have helped very much.”
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