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But almost a year ago, the 60-acre fairgrounds was the subject of a controversial Petaluma City Council hearing that re-volved around whether to extend the fair?s lease of the city-owned site.

A split City Council voted to discuss an item not scheduled on the agenda but brought forward by three of its members, to hear the fair?s request for a 36-year extension on its lease of the site.

In exchange, fair and city officials would talk about related issues, including the use of fairgrounds turf areas as ballfields for Petaluma?s youth and whether a new police station might be built somewhere on the property.

In the wake of the controversy that July night, a lease extension wasn?t granted, but the council agreed that its staff would meet with fair staff, abandoning its initial approach of having a subcommittee of three council members meet with two fair directors.

But city and fair officials said this week that more pressing issues came up over the past 11 months, which required putting the lease issue on the back burner.

?We haven?t really had any discussions? since that council meeting, fair CEO Pat Conklin said.

Following that meeting, she did meet with City Manager John Brown last summer to talk about the fair?s need for a lease extension, but officials have been in ?fair mode? recently getting ready for the annual event, Conklin said.

?We?re working on the fair right now and they?re working on their budget,? she said of the city.

Fair board member Brian Sobel, who sits on a subcommittee charged with examining the fair?s long-range goals, said the fair hasn?t been pushing the city for another lease discussion, but is ready and willing to discuss the issue when city officials are available.

?It?s just not been a priority, given everything that?s been going on,? he said. ?We do expect we?ll sit down eventually.?

That?s also the goal of city officials. Council members have said they support keeping the fair in its current location, so an attempt to sell the land seems unlikely.

Brown is hopeful the fairgrounds will be discussed ?in the not-too-distant future,? saying he?s talked with council members ?about the need to keep this on the to-do list.?

Resolving the fairgrounds issue is one of the goals the council set for the next two years at a workshop in January, Mayor Pamela Torliatt noted.

Although there isn?t a specific time-frame for that discussion, Torliatt said she?d like to see the council take up the issue before the end of the year.

?We?ve been dealing with some pretty critical budget issues and needed to get our arms around next fiscal year?s budget,? but ?hopefully, in the next six months, we?ll be talking about that,? she said.

The issue of the lease extension has gotten renewed attention in recent years. When the adjacent Kenilworth Junior High School was sold and a shopping center proposed as a replacement, some in the community questioned whether the fairgrounds should also go to make room for development.

In 2006, the fair said it would try to negotiate a long-term lease with the city as part of building a minor league baseball stadium on the property. However, the fair and the potential team owner never reached an agreement.

The fair has been at its current site since 1937, on land originally purchased by the city for $20,000 in 1911. The $1-a-year terms of the fair?s original lease remain in place today.

With the lease set to expire by 2024, the fair sought an extension to 2060 at last summer?s council meeting. Although almost a decade and a half remain on the lease, the fair is seeking a long-term extension in order to secure bond financing for capital improvements its would like to make.

In the past, fair officials have talked about adding solar power and replacing aging barns at the site, but said a short lease horizon remains an obstacle to those goals.

?Events and time have not changed that reality,? Sobel said. ?We cannot do substantive improvements at the fairgrounds without having some long-term assurances.?

The fair is a separate government agency ? the Fourth District Agricultural Association, part of the state fair system ? and its board members are appointed by the governor.

Although the city owns the fairgrounds land, the fair board has the ability to sub-lease parts of the property for different uses, such as the schools, paintball course, Airport Express stop and weekend car sales now found there.

In 2007, the fair board and City Council held their first joint meeting in at least 25 years, which officials from both agencies said was a sign of renewed cooperation.

Sobel said the fair and the city will be ?equal parties? in any lease extension negotiations.

?There is still a lot of time left on the lease,? he said, so if an extension isn?t worked out with the current council, ?We?ll wait.?

(Contact Corey Young at corey.young@arguscourier.com)