News: 1999-01.16-AntiochHo

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T: Renaissance Fair Hopes To Find Home in Antioch 
A: Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer
D: Saturday, January 16, 1999 
C: 1999 San Francisco Chronicle 


Renaissance Pleasure Faire officials who said goodbye to Black Point in Novato last year have their eyes focused on the oak-studded hills of Antioch.

Fair, city and local business leaders said yesterday they are in final negotiations with local property owners to relocate the fair, which needs a new home because of the planned development of the Novato site.

If the effort is successful, Antioch would be home to eight weekends of jousting knights, human chess matches and thousands of fairgoers enjoying turkey legs and tankards of ale.

``We're hoping it is going to come through,'' said Mayor Mary Rocha. ``It would be a wonderful added feature for us. It puts us right on the map.''

The fair, which runs from late August into October, still has to submit environmental and traffic studies to the city, which could happen in the next couple of months. The event would be subject to planning commission and council approval.

The area is known as Higgins Ranch for the Antioch family that founded the Higgins Funeral Home and has been involved in civic affairs for decades. The Higgins estate is in a legal dispute over the sale of the property to the Zeka Group of Burlingame, which would lease the property to the fair. Fair and city officials said they are confident the two sides will reach a settlement.

The proposed site, south of the Contra Loma Reservoir and east of Empire Mine Road, is pristine open fields with gnarled, hundred-year- old oak trees. It's also home to the endangered San Joaquin kit fox and red-legged frog. The fair has hired an environmental consulting firm to study how to prevent harm to the native species.

``All of our efforts are focused in Antioch,'' said Howard Hamburg, vice president of Renaissance Faire Entertainment. ``We're excited about it. We think we have a good plan that the city will support''

Hamburg said the fair would like a 10- to 13-year lease for the 75-acre parcel, which includes 25 acres for recreation and 50 for parking.

Access would be along Dallas Ranch Road.

``We're going to be the cultural center out here,'' said Planning Commissioner Dennis Nead, who approached fair officials last year when he heard they were running into opposition in their effort to move to the Sunol-Pleasanton area.

``It will give an identity to the whole east county region,'' Nead said. ``We have nothing to distinguish ourself from other cities. We're the far reaches of Bay Area and Delta. It's not quite Disneyland, but it would definitely enhance our quality of life and add some sophistication.''

Nead and other city officials estimate the fair could bring millions of dollars to restaurants, hotels and gas stations, as well as hundreds of temporary jobs and a couple dozen full- time jobs to the east part of the county.

Traffic should not be a problem because the fair would operate only on weekends, Antioch Public Works Director Joe Brandt said. He said the city can expect 5,000 additional cars and about 12,000 people on city streets per day for 18 days.

Antioch resident expressed mixed views on the proposal. Nancy Bachmann said she and her husband hike through the fields where the fair is proposed.

``It's a wonderful wilderness,'' Bachmann said. ``You get away from the city almost instantly. It will be a good thing economically for our area, but I sure hate to give up the open space. I hope they do sufficient impact studies before they approve it.''

Resident Paulette Crisman, who lives off Dallas Ranch Road, said she is pleased with the prospect of a cultural event coming to Antioch. She thinks traffic will not be a problem.

``I would welcome it,'' Crisman said. ``I wouldn't have to drive that far. I went to the fair one year in Novato and it was so neat. I love medieval history, the costumes and the way the people were talking in Olde English.''

1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A16