News: 1999-03.13-Antioch

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T: Renaissance festival to seek Antioch future
D: March 13, 1999
A: Imran Ghori
C: (c) 1998 Contra Costa Newspapers

The Elizabethan fair, which says it could bring more than $11 million to the local economy, aims for approval from the city

ANTIOCH -- Move over, Humphrey the whale. The city that calls itself the Gateway to the Delta might soon get a new claim to fame: the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

Promoters of the Elizabethan festival plan to file an application next week to use the Higgins Ranch site along Empire Mine Road for the event, said Howard Hamburg. He is vice president of Renaissance Entertainment Corp., a Colorado company that stages five Renaissance fairs across the nation.

If all goes well, jousting, corsets and barbecue turkey legs will be livening up Antioch by the end of the summer, and, according to promoters, pumping more than $11 million into the local economy, including $200,000 in local sales tax revenue each year.

We are moving forward, Hamburg said. We're excited and we're expecting to submit our plans. We're hoping it will be well-received.

The fair, which employs 30 year-round staff members and 400 seasonal workers, was forced to seek another site last year when its home of 29 years, Black Point in Novato, was slated for development. It unsuccessfully explored sites in Sunol, Vallejo and Vacaville before finding Antioch.

The annual festival re-creates a 16th century English village with music, food, drama and dance, drawing 200,000 people over seven successive weekends starting in late August.

Fair representatives began looking at south Antioch late last summer, eventually choosing the Higgins site because of its rolling hills and oak trees.

The ranchland can be scorching hot in the summer and fall, a world away from the Delta waters that captured the nation's interest during Humphrey's wayward journey in 1985.

But Hamburg praised the new site. It's gorgeous out there, just spectacular, he said.

A land dispute between the Higgins family estate and a Burlingame group trying to buy the 600-acre ranch is no longer an issue. A lease for the fair has been worked out, Hamburg said.

The lease covers 125 acres -- 25 acres for the fair, 50 for parking and the rest left in its natural setting.

Those issues are all being resolved, Hamburg said. We've made suitable arrangements.

Already earning support from city officials, backers are now working to persuade the public. They started with a presentation last weekend to members of the Antioch Economic Development Corp.

Joe Weber, an Antioch planning commissioner and Economic Development Corp. board member, said he was impressed.

This is a wonderful thing for East County and Antioch specifically, he said. This type of event will allow us to put Antioch on the map in a positive light.

Besides the economic effect, the fair will work with local junior high and high schools, putting on shows and educating them on history, Weber said.

Some residents, however, are worried about the fair traffic on narrow, winding Empire Mine Road. Antioch can expect an extra 5,000 cars and 12,000 visitors each day of the fair.

An independent consultant is doing traffic and environmental studies, Hamburg said, to devise a plan that's safe for the residents of the city.

Lone Tree Way and Hillcrest Avenue-Deer Valley Road are expected to be the two main routes from Highway 4 to the fair.

-------------------- Address of original story: (c) 1998 Contra Costa Newspapers