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Earl Warren Showgrounds Says, ‘We’re Still Open, Rumors Are False’

Despite Financial Difficulties, Earl Warren Will Stay Open

Fair-goers exploring the 2019 Santa Barbara Fair & Expo Preview at the Earl Warren Showgrounds
Fair-goers exploring the 2019 Santa Barbara Fair & Expo Preview at the Earl Warren Showgrounds | Credit: Harvest Keeney

Rumors that Earl Warren Showgrounds might be closing its doors have flown around the Santa Barbara Community in recent months, but the nonprofit has set the record straight — the 60-year-old facility will remain open for years to come.

“I’ve heard rumors that we’re closing down next month, I’ve heard that we’re turning into a low-income housing facility, but none of that is true,” CEO Ben Sprague said. “There has been no talk of shutting the facility down at all. We may have cash-flow problems by the end of the year, but we aren’t closing over it.”

Sprague took over as CEO in January of this year, when the nonprofit at 3400 Calle Real was already in deep financial difficulties. He took out an operational loan the same month he was hired, and said he is planning on taking out a second one in the coming months to cover costs for 2020. The Showgrounds has an annual operating budget of about $2.3 million and doesn’t pay any taxes since the property is state-owned.

Another false rumor has been circulating in a GoFundMe fundraiser for nearly two weeks, which claims that “there is only enough money to last until November, then we will lose this iconic place [Earl Warren Showgrounds] to disrepair.” The fundraiser, asking the public’s help in reaching its $400,000 goal, claims to be posted “on behalf of Earl Warren Showgrounds Foundation.” 

In fact, the Santa Barbara Showgrounds Foundation is the only official foundation that supports Earl Warren Showgrounds. The entity that posted the GoFundMe is not affiliated with Earl Warren Showgrounds in any way, said Michael Medel, president of the Earl Warren Board of Directors. He is asking that the group to remove its GoFundMe page because “there are inaccuracies” and the post is misleading.

“It suggests we are closing down in November. We definitely are not,” Medel said. “The members of the Earl Warren Showgrounds Foundation are part of the equestrian community and are raising money for equestrian-related activities.”

The Independent reached out to the woman who posted the GoFundMe request, but she did not reply by press time.

Although the showgrounds is experiencing financial difficulties, Sprague and the Board of Directors have a plan that does not involve GoFundMe fundraisers. Sprague said that improving facilities, enhancing marketing strategies, and holding more events are the main focus. The annual Santa Barbara Fair & Expo and the Santa Barbara National Horse Show are the only two events put on by Earl Warren Showgrounds, and the Fair is its largest money-making event.

“Most people don’t realize we only rely on rentals,” Medel explained. “Any other event you see are run by groups who rent the space from us. The fair and horse show are the only events that give all profits to Earl Warren. We are changing that.”

This weekend, from October 18-20, the Showgrounds is holding the first Haunt & Harvest Festival, complete with haunted houses, rides, live music, and more. Medel called the Fall Festival an “anomaly” because most other fairgrounds in the state only have one such event per year — county fairs. If the new festival is a hit, they plan to repeat it each year. All proceeds from the festival will go to Earl Warren Showgrounds.

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