State to examine benefits of letting go of fairgrounds
The Del Mar Fairgrounds could be put up for sale if a revised budget plan proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is approved by the state Legislature.
Schwarzenegger suggested selling seven state-owned properties in order to raise more than $1 billion to help close the state's $15.4 billion budget gap. The fairgrounds, at 350-oceanfront-acres, is estimated to raise $650 million.
"I wish Sacramento would leave us alone," said Tim Fennell, general manager of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. "We're a state agency that creates $400 million of economic activity for the region. Why would you want to tamper with that?"
This is not the first time the fairgrounds has been on the chopping block. About five years ago, the state government considered selling the property to raise cash, Fennell said.
Elected representatives were able to explain the value of the profitable state facility hosting events year-round, including the San Diego County Fair and thoroughbred horse racing, which employ more than 4,000 people, Fennell said.
This time around, officials can also explain the facility is now identified as a major evacuation center, after it housed thousands of people and large animals during the 2007 wildfires.
Assemblyman Martin Garrick, who represents the 74th assembly district that includes Del Mar, is strongly opposed to the proposal.
"I disagree with the idea of selling an irreplaceable treasure like the Del Mar Fairgrounds," Garrick said. "It's tantamount to selling Big Sur and Yosemite."
Garrick said now is not the time to sell real estate in a down market and any property sale would not occur quickly enough to help with the current budget crisis. "I do not believe it will go forward," Garrick said of the fairgrounds sale.
The other properties identified for possible sale include San Quentin State Prison, Ventura County Fairgrounds, Orange County Fairgrounds, the Los Angeles Coliseum, Cal Expo and the Cow Palace.
Each one will be studied for the cost and benefits of selling and the state legislature would have to approve putting the properties on the market.
The Del Mar Fairgrounds would be difficult to redevelop because it sits in a 100-year flood plain and would be subject to California Coastal Commission approval given its proximity to the ocean, Fennell said.
In the meantime, an uncertain future makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the fairgrounds to sell naming rights for the facility, or book events two to four years in advance, Fennell said.