New indoor concert venue under consideration for Del Mar Fairgrounds

A new 1,900-seat indoor concert venue, hosting as many as 60 musical events each year, could be in the works for the Del Mar Fairgrounds under a proposal now being studied by fairgrounds officials.

For the past several years, officials with the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds, have been searching for alternative uses for the Surfside Race Place, a 91,000-square-foot satellite wagering center on the fairgrounds property that has languished with falling attendance and revenue.

One proposal, to construct a micro-brewery in the building, died after the 22nd DAA rejected a plan put forward by a subsidiary of beer giant MillerCoors, and local brewers failed to come forward with their own bids in response to outreach from the fairgrounds.

Now, the focus is on a new North County concert venue, which would be complemented by a craft brew tasting room, brewing museum, event space and continued satellite wagering, said fairgrounds officials.

The district is working with an architect, who has estimated the project would cost between $10 million and $15 million, said 22nd DAA board member Stephen Shewmaker at the board’s meeting on Nov. 10.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to pay for that,” Shewmaker told his board colleagues. “Looking at the raw numbers, there is a business case for going forward.”

Once the business plan is final, Shewmaker said, the proposal will go to the full board of directors for consideration.

That could come within the next 90 to 120 days, fairgrounds CEO and general manager Tim Fennell told the board. He said that theoretically, if the plans pencil out and the board approves them, construction on the concert venue could begin as early as late summer or early fall of 2016.

“It’s got to make good business sense and complement what we do, which I believe it would,” Fennell said after the meeting.

The district would look at a number of different ways to finance the project, which could include seeking outside investors, tapping district reserves or obtaining a bank loan, Fennell said. Right now, he said, the source of financing is “to be determined.”

The concert venue would tie in well with existing uses at the fairgrounds, such as the annual county fair and horse racing meets, which both include concert performances, said Fennell. A concert venue would also benefit the city of Del Mar, where the fairgrounds is located, by generating tax revenue, he said.

Calls placed to Del Mar Mayor Al Corti seeking comment on the proposal were not returned by press time.

The closest competition geographically to the proposed new concert venue is probably the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, which hosts musical events most nights of the week, featuring local and national acts. The venue has a capacity for about 600 attendees, according to published reports.