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Auto Auction Boosts Fair Site, Then Some

An auto auction this weekend in Costa Mesa is expected to draw some 60,000 auto enthusiasts and others to the OC Fair & Event Center—and area hotels, shops and restaurants.

Scottsdale-based Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. is holding its first Orange County auction of collectable autos Friday through Sunday.

Barrett-Jackson is known for big auto auctions in Arizona, Las Vegas and South Florida. The Costa Mesa show is set to be an annual event, and likely a boon for the area.

“We’re going to easily sell out,” said Shaun Robinson, general manager of the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa, which has 486 rooms.

All 10 of Costa Mesa’s hotels should be booked, said Robinson, who also heads up the Costa Mesa Conference & Visitor Bureau.

Newport Beach hotels also should do well, he said. Costa Mesa and Newport Beach’s tourism agencies are promoting the auction.

“This is the type of stuff we need,” Robinson said. “It’s a different, creative reason for people to come.”

The OC Fair & Event Center landed Barrett-Jackson nearly a year ago after spending $16 million to upgrade the fairgrounds.

The auction is set to be the largest event at the fairgrounds besides the OC Fair, said Steven Beazley, chief executive of the OC Fair & Event Center.

Barrett-Jackson is taking the entire 150-acre site for the auction.

The auction is “a lifestyle festival for the automotive enthusiast,” said Craig Jackson, chief executive of Barrett-Jackson, cofounded by Jackson’s late father in 1971.

“It’s sort of a three-ring circus, but it’s a lifestyle three-ring circus with cars at the center,” he said.

The event includes hundreds of sellers of auto accessories, jewelry, art, clothing and food.

The buyers and sellers are part of the entertainment, according to Jackson.

“They’re a fun-hearted group of people, usually self-made, type-A personalities,” he said. “The sport here is spending money.”

Fairgrounds officials hope the auction will lead to more big events.

“Once we show proficiency managing this, events will be contacting us,” Beazley said.

The event comes at a time of transition for the fairgrounds, which is owned by the state and is being sold amid Sacramento’s budget woes.

The site is in the process of being sold for $96 million to the city of Costa Mesa and Costa Mesa-based Facilities Management West Inc., which hopes to boost the number of events at the fairgrounds.

More Profitable

Big events are more profitable and hold the potential to double the site’s $28 million in annual revenue, according to Beazley.

“There’s major unmet capacity for these grounds,” he said.

The annual OC Fair—the ninth largest in the nation—accounts for $17 million of the OC Fair & Event Center’s annual revenue and about half of its $2.5 million in yearly net profit.

The fairgrounds recently finished putting up a 31,000-square-foot centerpiece building dubbed “the hangar.”

The auction is set to take place in the hangar, which has been extended with a tent. After the Barrett-Jackson show, the hangar will host fair concerts and be leased for events.

The building was crucial to landing the auction company.

Barrett-Jackson liked the site’s proximity to John Wayne Airport, according to Beazley. The auction draws visitors from across the country with some flying in on their own planes.

Jackson said he scouted the fairgrounds about six years ago.

He said he has a lot of customers—wealthy auto collectors—in OC.

“It’s a nice area,” he said. “I love it there. I’ve had a boat there for years.”

Jackson also has a home in Laguna Beach, where he’ll spend the summer.

But the fairgrounds needed a lot of work, according to Jackson.

The site needed an auction building, newer bathrooms and better telecommunications.

Barrett-Jackson also needed the entire fairgrounds, which meant carving out a week for the auction and changing the contract for the weekend Orange County Market Place swap meet.

Related events are scheduled up to the weekend auction, including a road rally that starts at South Coast Plaza, a “cruise-in” at Connell Chevrolet in Costa Mesa, a charity gala and an opening night party with fashion shows put on by Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. are among the sponsors.

The auction is set to broadcast live on the Speed Channel, a network for auto buffs.

Some 400 classic cars, muscle cars and exotics—rare or unusual autos—are set to be auctioned.

TV personality Jesse James plans to sell one of his hot rods, a 1936 Ford custom five-window coupe.

Barrett-Jackson’s flagship Scottsdale auction sold 1,200 autos this year. The Arizona auction sees about $70 million in sales.

Sales

For the first OC show, Jackson said he’d be happy with $10 million in sales.

“If we hit $15 million I’d be ecstatic,” he said.

Barrett-Jackson runs a “no reserve” auction, meaning autos are sold to the highest bidder. Owners aren’t allowed to bid to try and push up prices.

Sellers and buyers are screened, which reduces problems later, Jackson said.

“If you think your car is worth $200,000 and we think it’s worth $100,000, we won’t take it,” he said.

Barrett-Jackson makes sure buyers have the money to pay for the vehicles they bid on, Jackson said.

The company gets commissions from buyers and sellers. It also makes money from entry fees and sponsorships.

Barrett-Jackson also runs a number of other businesses, such as merchandise and insurance sales.

The OC Fair & Event Center is set to make $1 off each ticket sale, which is incentive for the fairgrounds to market the event, Beazley said.

The fairgrounds also shares in food and drink sales, he said.

Jackson said he estimates the Scottsdale show adds $96 million to the economy there in lodging, food and beverage sales and shopping.

The Hilton’s Robinson has seen the auction’s impact first hand.

Until 2004, Robinson was general manager for the Hilton Scottsdale Resort and Villas hotel and was on the tourism board there.

“People take their vacation every year around the show,” Robinson said. “I saw what a piece of business it was for the community.”

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