The San Mateo County Event Center is courting Cow Palace shows, which could nullify the debate about the SF venue's future
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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. The lobbyist, Bill Duplissea, is a former Republican member of the State Assembly whose firm, Cline and Duplissea, has earned $266,000 from Daly City since 2001, according to state records, to "monitor budget issues" and hit up lawmakers like Yee.
Weeks after Daly City sent Duplissea after Yee, the senator introduced Senate Bill 1527, originally designating as "surplus" all 67 acres of state-owned property the Cow Palace sits on so that Daly City could purchase it, flip the valuable real estate to a developer, and await the local boost in tax revenue coming from new condos, storefronts, and a retail grocer.
Daly City was so determined to circumvent the Cow Palace on the issue that when the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversees the property, tried to convene peace talks between the Cow Palace and Daly City, Duplissea sent a letter to the state declaring that his client would prefer to deal only with Sacramento.
After the bill was introduced, Yee and Daly City officials embarked on a media blitz condemning the Cow Palace as a decrepit relic with event income that couldn't sustain it. Many of the events Cow Palace hosts, Daly City complains, are offensive to the sensibilities of locals or don't match the neighborhood fabric, like an annual gun show and the San Franciscocentric Exotic Erotic Ball, "a celebration of flesh, fetish, and fantasy," according to the ball's Web site.
"Every single neighborhood association surrounding the Cow Palace asked the senator to carry this legislation," Yee spokesperson Adam Keigwin told us. "This was always about revitalizing the neighborhood."
After Cow Palace supporters mounted a resistance campaign, Yee came up with a mid-April "compromise" bill that would result in the sell-off of the 13-acre parking lot adjacent to the Cow Palace while appearing to protect the historic venue for now.
Patterson of the Great Dickens fair said a lease provision in the bill would be preferable so revenue could go toward giving the Cow Palace an earthquake retrofit and other needed improvements. But Keigwin said that's not something the senator's interested in.
The California Senate Government Organizational Committee was debating the bill as we went to press. That committee includes Yee and Sens. Jeff Denham and Mark Wyland, two Republican cosponsors of the bill who represent districts that aren't affected by the Cow Palace at all.
Denham, whose District 12 contains the cities of Modesto and Salinas, tellingly promoted legislation two years ago asking the state to study transferring control over agricultural fairs to local governments, but it died in the assembly's Appropriations Committee.
Opponents of Yee's bill are concerned it could set a precedent for the state to declare other agricultural districts "surplus" and sell them to developers without local supporters and promoters of fairs and expos having a say in the matter, not unlike what the Cow Palace faces now.
A capitol insider also told us that because Yee declared SB 1527 "urgent" in hopes of rushing it through the legislature, it requires a two-thirds vote, hence the cosponsorships from two minority GOP lawmakers.
As for the future of the Cow Palace's clients, we contacted the Grand National Rodeo, the San Francisco Sport and Boat Show, and the Golden Gate Kennel Club Dog Show, but didn't hear back from representatives of any of these events.
Baba, a tattoo artist in Los Angeles, said San Francisco's Body Art Expo, held at the Cow Palace, secured an agreement with the venue for another year, but he wouldn't offer further details. Mega Productions, which hosts the event, didn't return our call.
Howard Mauskopf, executive producer of the Exotic Erotic Ball, said he recently looked at other possible venues, but he's keeping them confidential for now. The Moscone Center is big enough, Mauskopf said, "but they wouldn't touch an event of this ilk." He added that the ball's coordinators regularly receive letters from law enforcement commending them on the lack of trouble they cause.
"There are things we really like about the Cow Palace, which includes the fact that they kind of let the event happen the way it needs to happen," Mauskopf said. "It's big enough. That's the most important thing. And they have a very high-quality ticket office that really knows how to deal with consumers."