Doug Lofstrom, CEO of the OC Fair, Costa Mesa, Calif., shows off the under-construction lobby at the fair's Pacific Amphitheatre. The $13.8-million upgrade will be complete in early 2015. (VT Photo)

Attendance was officially down slightly, about 3 percent, for the 2014 OC Fair, Costa Mesa, Calif., but the variety of events and quality of offerings and increased revenues thoroughly pleased CEO Doug Lofstrom, in his last year as manager.

The unaudited attendance for the July 11-Aug. 10 fair totaled 1,337,167, down from last year's 1,374,633. “But what I’m very pleased about is our daily paid admissions were only off 79 percent, less than one percent,” Lofstrom added.

The gate brought in $7,105,884, up 8 percent over last year, because the fair had a $1 price increase in adult admission, from $11 to $12. They also combined seniors ($8) and youth ($6), blended to $7 each. “We sold more adult tickets, and slightly less on the senior and children sides,” he added.

Unseasonably warm and humid weather for 15 operating days was directly responsible for the decrease, he said, observing that the last week of the fair, with five operating days of nice weather, brought out bigger crowds than last year.

“We know that we sold a little over 13,000 less tickets in Pacific Amphitheater for concerts, so we figured we would be softer on the concert series, but the whole fair will still be a strong year for us financially,” Lofstrom said.

In the history of the fair, only six days drew 80,000 or more people. Three of them occurred this year, he said. The record is still from 2001, when the fair ran 17 days. Now that it is 23 days long (closed Mondays and Tuesdays), a move made in part to relieve compression on the grounds, it’s back to 80,000-plus days, including Day 7, a Saturday, with 84,559 in attendance; the last Saturday with 84,050, and the last Sunday with 82,125.

Lofstrom did not have a “capacity” number, but said probably 80,000 is comfortable, 85,000 is pushing the envelope. What you gain in admission is probably lost to lines on rides and at food outlets. More importantly, it’s not as good an experience for the fairgoer.

“We were cruising along since 2001 with no packed days,” he said. Not now.

Not including the final Sunday, food and drink sales this year were up 3 percent over last year to $16,989,671 for both Ovations Food Services and independent concessionaires, and alcohol was up 9 percent, to $6,552,059. Lofstrom did not single out any one food item as stellar this year. “The entire offering is the show stopper,” he said.

Carnival ride sales totaled $8,201,868, including Sunday, and games, an additional $5,957,308 for Ray Cammack Shows. Ride income was up 6.28 percent. “They do a great job of merchandising,” Lofstrom said.

With big smiles for a good season, the Ray Cammack Shows crew includes Tony Fiori, Guy Leavitt, Jody Leavitt Lopez, Chris Lopez, and Steve Charleston. (VT Photo)

Guy Leavitt, co-owner of Ray Cammack Shows, credited happy customers with the show’s success. The show’s Tony Fiori added that they introduced four new rides — the Big Top, Pelican Splash (a kids flume ride), a carousel and OMG — at this year’s OC Fair.

The show plays nine spots a year, starting with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, Fiori noted. Coming up they play the Antelope Valley Fair, Lancaster, Los Angeles County Fair, Pomona, and Arizona State Fair, Phoenix.

Lofstrom listed another “incredible” statistic from the 2014 event. The four-year-old OCTA Fair Express, providing bus rides to the fair from all over South County, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, rode 76,952 people this year, up 30 percent from last year and triple year one.

“Imagine yourself in San Juan Capistrano,” Lofstrom said, picking one of the far-flung outposts. “You drive to the regional location, park for free, get on the bus for $2, you get a $3 voucher to get into the fair, and for $2 you go home. For $7 you get the fair and transportation.”

OCTA Fair Express is funded by a federal grant. It started in 2011 with 25,699 riders.

This year’s concert series was off 13,000 in attendance, but “let’s not forget 139,775 people did come to the concert series and had a good time,” Lofstrom said. He commended Dan Gaines, entertainment director, for an outstanding and diverse series. Ticket sales totaled $4,639,846. Seven of the 23 shows sold out.

Offspring on opening night grossed the most, drawing 7,858, and Rebelution/Iration/The Green on Saturday sold the most tickets with 8,000.

On the opening Saturday, Which One’s Pink? A Tribute to the Music of Pink Floyd, packaged with the 35th anniversary of the album The Wall, drew 5,452 paid attendance. The Happy Together tour drew 6,107 people, “all baby boomers, probably 6,500 with comps. It’s not all about reggae or classic rock or rock and roll. It’s a clever program Dan has put together,” Lofstrom said.

The Pacific Amphitheatre is undergoing $13.8 million in renovations, which will add a lobby, reconfigure the berm, include a new plaza and reclaim three acres of flexible flat space. Construction was halted June 15 for the fair and will resume Sept. 1, with completion planned for Jan. 15, 2015.

The improvements will integrate the amphitheater into the fair, with a central point of entry replacing the side entrances and will include a new plaza. “That will help gain attention for music festivals and other large events that may want to use the fairgrounds,” Lofstrom said, adding none is booked yet.

The rush had been to get the infrastructure in place before fairtime so that it would have a minimal impact of fairgoers, particularly in terms of sound attenuation. The project was delayed because of the complexities of the endeavor and resulting construction challenges, he added. “It’s not just cutting a hole in the berm and putting a box there,” he said of the new lobby.

The OC Fair theme this year  was ‘Summer Starts Here.’

The Bubble Rollers have been around fairs and parties for about four years now. This one was near kiddieland at the OC Fair. (VT Photo)

“We’ve always believed the OC Fair takes command of July and half of August in this region,” Lofstrom said. “Not to take away from Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and the Angels, but it is unique and occurs only one time a year.”

This will be Lofstrom’s last year as fair manager. He is re-retiring this year, having retired once before as VP of the fair. CPS HR Consulting out of Sacramento is handling the recruitment process and the desire of the fair board of directors is to have a candidate announced prior to Thanksgiving, Lofstrom said.

Plans for 2015, including dates, are pending, but it will be a 23-day fair again, he said.

“We just did three 80,000-days and didn’t turn the world upside down. Our focus will continue to be on parking and circulation,” he said.

Interviewed for this story: Doug Lofstrom, (714) 708-1500;  Guy Leavitt and Tony Fiori, (602) 237-3333