Fairgrounds eyes April for groundbreaking on indoor concert venue


With the bidding process underway and final architectural tweaks being polished off, officials at the Del Mar Fairgrounds are gearing up for construction to start April 1 on the $13 million project to build an indoor arena and exhibition hall inside the fairgrounds’ offtrack betting center.

The 22nd District Agricultural District (DAA), which runs the state-owned fairgrounds, plans to convert half of the 26-year-old Surfside Race Place into a 1,869-seat concert venue flanked by a 7,000-square-foot space for beer tasting and cultural exhibits. The satellite betting operation will continue in the other half of the building.

Fairgrounds officials have pushed the renovation for more than a year as a way to breathe new life into the facility, which has seen daily attendance plummet to one-tenth of its 5,000-person capacity. Depending on the number of events, the revamped facility is expected to rake in between $1.2 million and $2 million in profits.

At the DAA’s monthly board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, fairgrounds officials said review by a state architect — which yielded several pages of code compliance issues — should wrap up soon.

“They are not severe, they’re just mostly details,” said Gary Reist, the fairgrounds’ deputy general manager.

Bidding is already underway for the facility’s talent-management contract, Reist said, and should be awarded at the DAA’s January meeting. Bidding for the construction contract should open by Jan. 15 followed by selecting two months later, he said.

If that timeline holds, construction would start April 1. Officials have said construction will take less than a year.

The new timeframe marks at least the third time this year the project has slipped back. As recently as this summer, fairgrounds officials said construction would begin this month and finish in time for a fall 2018 opening.

Part of the delay has come because of a lawsuit from Solana Beach, filed in June, over the DAA’s decision to forego state review of its environmental and traffic impacts. Fairgrounds officials announced a settlement at the end of September. Those terms have not yet been disclosed, but the September announcement referenced 60 concerts per year, down from the 90 that had been discussed throughout the planning process.

The California Coastal Commission approved the project’s Coastal Development Permit two weeks later with several conditions, the most significant of which requires the DAA to gather data on parking and attendance for every Surfside event over the next five years.