Flower show leaves wilted arena

The popular San Francisco Flower and Garden Show will be uprooted from its longtime home at the aging Cow Palace in a recent decision by event organizers.

The five-day show, which attracts more than 40,000 to the historic arena each year, is moving farther away from its original destination of San Francisco and has found a home at the renovated San Mateo County Event Center, organizers said.

Flower and Garden Show Chairman Duane Kelly decided to move because the state-owned facility has not been renovated as promised by state officials since he began renting the venue 12 years ago.

“I lost confidence that the state would improve the Cow Palace,” Kelly said. “When I moved the show here from Fort Mason, I was given assurances that it would be significantly improved and renovated, and that hasn’t happened.”

He said his show is based on presenting beauty and the deteriorating 67-year-old arena hurts the show’s image.

“It wasn’t because of the controversy that Daly City and Sen. Leland Yee have stirred up,” he said. “My problem with it is theaesthetics.”

The move is the latest blow to the Cow Palace. The venue, which has hosted events from Rolling Stones concerts to San Francisco Warriors games since 1941, is owned by the state and is in deep financial trouble. Located on Geneva Avenue between San Francisco and Daly City, the arena has lost more than $1 million in the last five years.

Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, recently introduced a bill that would allow the state to sell one of the arena’s parking lots to Daly City for the city to redevelop into a multi-use center. The previous version of the bill, which spurred a great deal of controversy, would have allowed the state to sell the entire 67-acre property to Daly City, possibly razing the historic arena.

Although event officials could not pinpoint how much total revenue the Flower and Garden Show brought for the Cow Palace and Daly City, they said the show generated more than $5 million in sales and filled about 3,000 hotel rooms near the San Francisco International Airport.

“We’re certainly disappointed to lose the event such as the flower show,” Cow Palace CEO Walter Haub said. “Spring dates have always been very desirable for several types of events and we will have no problem filling those dates.”

The decision by the flower show, whose name will not be changed, has not begun an exodus by other event organizers from the Cow Palace.

“We have no intention of leaving the Cow Palace — it’s the perfect location for us,” said Kevin Patterson, who heads the Great Christmas Dickens Fair.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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