"It's just been a real heritage treasure for 120 years of low-priced entertainment that the entire family can enjoy," said Costa Mesa resident Joy Williams.
Dozens gathered outside a building where the public action was held. The fairgrounds are home to a number of activities, including the Orange County Market Place, the annual fair, as well as an equestrian center.
State officials unsealed seven offers. The lowest initial bid was $1,000. Other bids came from the Orange County-Costa Mesa partnership and the Anaheim Sports Holdings. Advanced Real Estate was outbid during the auction.
The highest bid was $56,500,000, from Craig Realty Group, a developer responsible for outlet malls like Cabazon in Palm Springs, and the Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles County. The company's chief executive officer insists the fairgrounds will stay.
"Our plan would be to keep it here and enhance what's already been built," said Steven Craig, CEO of Craig Realty Group.
Craig would not say what "enhanced" means, only that there are no plans for a shopping mall.
"It's still a bid that is much lower than what the state was expecting," said Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach.
In the past, state officials said the sale could bring in up to $180,000,000.
"Why would you sell beautiful 150 acres in the middle of Orange County at the bottom of the market? It makes no sense," said Brian Lochrie, Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to use the money from the sale of the fairgrounds to try to ease the state's budget woes. The state could reject or accept the bid. It could execute a contract in a few months.