Cow tipping in Daly City

The San Mateo County Event Center is courting Cow Palace shows, which could nullify the debate about the SF venue's future
Photo by Charles Russo

Daly City's desperate campaign to shut down the famous Cow Palace and sell the land it's located on to developers continues.

In the newest twist, promoters of shows and conventions that have long been held at the Cow Palace are being approached by officials from an expo center in San Mateo County about moving their events, which could increasingly drain the Cow Palace's income and kill efforts to stop Daly City and its allies in Sacramento from selling it.

Some promoters also contacted the San Mateo County Event Center about a possible move, worried that efforts to demolish the Cow Palace will make it difficult for them to schedule future events. Chris Carpenter, general manager of the San Mateo center, refused to name the shows because the promoters have asked him not to say anything.

"We are very interested in filling as many dates as we can for the Event Center," Carpenter told the Guardian. "We have a very active sales department."

Carpenter denied that Daly City officials encouraged him to steal business from the Cow Palace, saying no one from the city had contacted him. But Daly City manager Pat Martel eagerly promoted the alternative venue on the KQED radio show Forum March 28.

"Today we have state-of-the-art facilities throughout the Bay Area where a number of events currently at the Cow Palace can continue.... The San Mateo County Expo Center would welcome the opportunity to keep that kind of business in the county," Martel said.

The San Francisco Flower and Garden show announced in late April that it was leaving the Cow Palace after 12 years and heading to San Mateo, where flower show proprietor Duane Kelly signed a five-year agreement. Kelly said he made the move because the state had long ago promised certain renovations and improvements would occur at the Cow Palace, but they never happened.

In the meantime, the San Mateo center received a $3 million renovation that included fresh paint and new carpet and draperies. It was simply a better situation for a show that relies on aesthetics, Kelly said.

Kelly added he wasn't impressed with how Daly City officials and state senator Leland Yee have handled the discussions about the proposed sale by trying to exclude Cow Palace officials from deliberations about the venue's future. He said it looked more to him like a land grab, and despite the construction of new, glitzy convention centers elsewhere, the Bay Area remains underserved.

"Particularly [San Francisco's Moscone Center] does not lend itself to public shows because of the parking issue, and it's a very expensive building to work in," Kelly said.

Following a March public meeting on the Cow Palace's fate, officials at the San Mateo center approached the organizer of the Great Dickens Christmas Faire about moving that event. Kevin Patterson, who runs the fair and has since helped lead a campaign to save the Cow Palace, said the San Mateo center isn't suitable because of the amount of space he needs and the cost required to alter his event logistically. Besides, he said, he likes the Cow Palace.

"Daly City just got greedy and pushed too hard and tried to get too much," Patterson said.

In December, Daly City officials voted to dispatch their lobbyist for a chat with Yee about developing the land after complaining that two years of lease negotiations over a 13-acre plot of Cow Palace property had gone nowhere.

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