After more than two decades with the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Chief Operating Officer Becky Bartling has left the San Diego County Fair for the top post at the Sonoma County Fair.
“It’s been a wonderful 22 years,” Bartling said in an interview during her last week.
Bartling joined the staff of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which oversees the state-owned fairgrounds, in January 1994.
She was hired as the first full-time box office manager and tasked with automating the antiquated ticket system. In addition to handling ticketing, Bartling headed admissions, group sales and paid parking.
She recalled the day the paid parking program started in 1994.
“I’ve got a lot of favorite memories. One of them is when we started paid parking way back in 1994,” she said. “We didn’t have ticket booths. I remember the first weekend it rained like crazy. We had to take the money in a room and dry it off with a hair dryer.”
Bartling worked in the box office for nearly a decade.
In 2003, she became one of two deputy general managers. She oversaw the operations, while her counterpart oversaw the fair. When her colleague left a couple years later, Bartling was promoted to chief operating officer.
As both chief operating officer and deputy general manager, Bartling oversaw all facility operations. The Del Mar Horsepark equestrian facility and seven departments — including the box office, events, maintenance and operations, parking, sales, security and telecommunications departments — reported directly to her.
Bartling was also responsible for administering the district’s master plan and booking all grandstand acts during the San Diego County Fair. For years she worked closely with the local communities, especially the city managers of Del Mar and Solana Beach.
“It’s very busy but very fun,” she said.
Originally from Wyoming, Bartling studied film and television at Montana State University. She came to San Diego to work for Ticketmaster, where she served as general manager for more than 10 years.
Looking back over her time with the fairgrounds, Bartling said one of the highlights was helping launch the haunted house now known as The Scream Zone. She also played a large part in preparing the facility as a wildfire evacuation site in 2003, 2007 and 2014.
The fairgrounds took in horses and more than 2,000 people during the 2007 wildfires.
“I slept in my office for three days. I didn’t go home,” she said. “Most of the team was here doing the same thing.”
Bartling has also helped build attendance and revenue in her time with the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Today the fairgrounds hosts more than 350 events annually. The 22nd DAA also produces three events each year, including the Del Mar National Horse Show, The Scream Zone and the ever-popular San Diego County Fair.
The 2015 fair was the second highest in the history of the annual event.
The fair’s 25-day run, the longest ever by a day, attracted a total of 1,503,508 guests. The fair set its attendance record in 2012 with 1,517,508 visitors in 24 days.
“The fairgrounds has really expanded its scope of events and operations,” Bartling said. “It’s become a real regional asset, appealing to all demographics and interests of the people of San Diego County.”
Although she’s loved being a part of the action, it’s the people Bartling will miss the most.
“The Del Mar Fairgrounds is family to me,” she said. “It’s a terrific team of individuals to work for and the community is just a wonderful place to be in.”
Bartling announced her departure at the Nov. 10 meeting of the 22nd DAA Board of Directors. Although she was supposed to leave by the end of November, she stayed on board to finish her work through the first week of December — just one month shy of 22 years with the fairgrounds.
Bartling will serve as chief executive officer of Sonoma County Fair. She is set to begin her position on Dec. 14.
“It was a hard decision for me to make, but I’ve been spending some time in Sonoma County and just thought it was time for me to make a change,” Bartling said. “The Sonoma County Fairgrounds is a beautiful fairgrounds, right in the heart of Wine Country. It’s quite a bit smaller than the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but with lots of great opportunities. I’m excited about going up there and bringing some of the fun things that we’ve done down here in Del Mar.”
Although she’s left Southern California, she won’t be gone for good. Bartling, who lived in Cardiff for close to 17 years, said she plans to return to the San Diego County Fair as a spectator. After all, she was given a lifetime pass to the fair during her going away party.
“I’m looking forward to going to the fair and actually going to a concert and sitting through the whole thing,” Bartling said with a laugh. “I’m starting with a new fair family, but this is my original fair family and I’m definitely going to be back.”