Del Mar Fair board ponies up $271,000 more for proposed concert venue

The agency that runs the Del Mar Fairgrounds took another step toward transforming its under-used satellite wagering center into a 1,900-seat concert venue at its meeting on Tuesday, April 11, when its board agreed to spend $271,382 on additional design work.

The action follows a vote in January, when the board of directors for the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds, approved an expenditure of $250,000 for preliminary design work. The board has now agreed to spend more than $500,000 on the proposed project.

The board is expected to consider approving the overall project in concept at its next meeting on May 23. According to a report on Tuesday’s agenda, the total project cost is estimated at $11.95 million. A project timeline included in the report calls for work to begin in October, with project completion expected by May 1, 2018.

The agency is considering a number of financing options, including a construction loan and the use of cash reserves.

So far, an architectural firm hired by the district has completed a project master plan, floor plans for the main floor and balcony of the concert venue, and sight line studies to illustrate views of the stage from different seating areas. The diagrams and simulations were displayed at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The next phase of work will include additional design work, as well as a more detailed cost estimate for the project.

Gary Reist, the fairgrounds’ deputy general manager, said it appears the building will not require seismic retrofitting for earthquake safety. But he said a final determination on that issue will come in the next phase of design work.

Also to be determined is whether the California Coastal Commission will require an amendment to the coastal development permit that it issued for the 91,000-square-foot building when it was constructed in 1991.

At the request of Coastal Commission staff, the district has studied potential traffic and parking impacts from the proposed concert venue, and found they would not be significant, said director David Watson. However, the commission has still not determined whether a permit amendment will be required, he said.

Fairgrounds officials contend that additional approval by the Coastal Commission will not be necessary because the satellite wagering facility, called the Surfside Race Place, was originally permitted for 5,000 patrons per day, and the proposed concert venue crowds will not exceed those totals. Currently, only a few hundred patrons visit the satellite wagering center on a daily basis.

Although Watson voted against a motion last month authorizing exploration of obtaining a construction loan of up to $13 million for the project, he said that was because the 22nd DAA staff had not provided the board with enough information about the proposal. This month, he said, the board report included the information he wanted to see, including cost estimates, a timeline and project milestones.

“I have always liked this project,” Watson said Tuesday. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

As proposed, the fairgrounds would partner with the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach to book acts for the new concert venue.

The 22nd DAA has been exploring various alternative uses for the Surfside Race Place over the past several years. Before settling on the concert venue proposal, the district considered such possibilities as a high-end movie complex, a bowling and entertainment center, and a micro-brewery.

Attendance at the satellite wagering center has been dropping for years, and district officials have cited such factors as the rise of Internet gambling and Indian casinos for the decline.