California Coastal Commission approves new Del Mar concert venue

Inside the old off-track betting facility that workers transformed into an entertainment venue at the Del Mar fairgrounds.
Inside the old off-track betting facility that workers transformed into an entertainment venue at the Del Mar fairgrounds in January 2020.

Indoor 1,869-seat facility to open in former satellite-wagering building


The California Coastal Commission authorized construction last week of the nearly completed 1,869-seat indoor concert venue and beer-tasting exhibit area in the off-track betting facility at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The commission’s after-the-fact approval comes more than two years after construction began. The work started late and then was suspended for months because of the pandemic and is only now nearing the finish. The fairgrounds expects to award a contract in April to a promoter and events manager for the facility, and shows could begin later this year.

“Our staff is still in the process of running the various networking cabling for security cameras, Wi-Fi hot spots, locks on doors and things like that,” Chief Executive Officer Carlene Moore told the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors, which runs the fairgrounds. “We will be ready to open soon.”

The state commission, which oversees all coastal development, originally authorized the $13 million renovation project in October 2017. At the time fairgrounds officials predicted an opening in the fall of 2019.

One reason for the delay was that the initial construction bids came in too high, at about $19 million, and the fair board decided to downsize the plans and rebid the project. Also, the city of Solana Beach filed a lawsuit against the 22nd DAA in 2017, citing concerns about noise, traffic, air quality and other environmental issues. The lawsuit was settled a few months later when the fairgrounds agreed to closely monitor those concerns.

But the 22nd DAA failed to submit final plans to the Coastal Commission within two years and the original authorization expired. As a result, construction began without the commission’s required coastal development permit.

Last week’s authorization included no financial penalties, but the commission added several special conditions to the project.

One was the requirement for a detailed landscaping plan using drought-tolerant materials to screen the building from Jimmy Durante Boulevard and Via de la Valle. Also added was an 8-foot height limit on any new signs; no tall, free-standing pole or roof signs; and during the first five years of operation the fairgrounds must monitor parking for all events and record the dates, names and types of events, number of attendees, number of parking spaces occupied and the location of parking areas used.

The Surfside Race Place off-track betting complex was built in the 1990s at the fairgrounds to serve a maximum capacity of 5,000 patrons per day. However, since then new tribal casinos and online gaming have steadily siphoned much of its business. Attendance has long been well below the facility’s capacity.

The original cone-shaped building is two stories tall with a partial third floor for mechanical equipment. The structure is 15 feet tall at the perimeter and 60 feet tall at the center.

The indoor concert venue is expected to be a source of year-round revenue for the fairgrounds, which has always depended primarily on the month-long San Diego County Fair followed by several weeks of annual horse-racing.

Off-track wagering will continue in part of the renovated building, where the new live-music venue is expected to host 60 concerts annually. Exhibits will focus on the region’s emergence as a leader in the craft beer industry, on the history of the San Diego County Fair and horse racing at the fairgrounds.