Del Mar Fairgrounds board hears use proposals for satellite wagering center


By Joe Tash

Proposals to turn the satellite wagering center at the Del Mar Fairgrounds into a bowling and entertainment complex, a multiplex cinema and a micro-brewery were presented on Tuesday, Aug. 13, to the board that oversees the fairgrounds property.

Rather than choose one or more of the proposals, the 22nd District Agricultural Association decided to study the issue further before making a decision.

The district, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds, is looking at new uses for the Surfside Race Place, a 90,000-square-foot, two-story building that was completed in 1991. The building was designed to hold 5,000 people per day, but attendance at the satellite wagering facility has steadily declined over the past decades from a high of about 2,900 daily visitors, to its present attendance of about 300 to 350 customers per day.

Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell said the goal is to generate increased revenue from the facility, while maintaining the district’s mission of promoting agriculture, commerce and entertainment opportunities for the community.

“This gives us an opportunity to keep some jobs… also it raises tax revenue for the local community,” said Fennell.

The 22nd DAA board heard proposals from two outside groups: one was for the “New Stick,” a 40,000-square-foot complex, including 20 bowling lanes, a video gaming center, a sports lounge and a banquet hall that could be converted into a theater or nightclub. Outdoor seating areas would include fire pits, putting greens, a horseshoe pit and a bocce ball court.

The other proposal, from a group led by LandRock Development, calls for a two-level cinema called “Cinequus,” with five screens on the first floor for families and children, and five more screens on the second floor for “elite moviegoers,” with service of alcohol, lounge-chair seating and higher ticket prices.

The New Stick proposal by TNS Inc. was the most detailed. According to documents presented to the 22nd DAA, the project would cost $6.45 million to construct, and would generate revenue of up to $49.2 million over five years, using the most optimistic estimates.

A third proposal, which would be a joint venture of the 22nd DAA and its food and beverage contractor, Premier Food Services, is the construction of a micro-brewery and beer garden at the satellite wagering center, tentatively called the “Equus Brewery and Garden.”

Premier vice president and general manager Mark Anderson said the micro-brewery could potentially be built in conjunction with either the cinema or bowling alley proposals.

While some board members said the proposals mesh with the district’s mission of providing entertainment for the public, at least one member expressed doubts.

“It’s mission creep,” said director David Watson, an attorney who has worked on resolving land-use disputes with the California Coastal Commission and other agencies during his tenure on the board.

“The criticism we get is we’re going too far afield from our original mission,” Watson said.

The district last year settled a lawsuit by the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority, over its master plan, which at one point included construction of a hotel, a proposal that was later dropped. The district also settled a similar lawsuit with the Sierra Club, and reached agreement with the Coastal Commission over alleged environmental violations.

Watson said the proposals offered Tuesday would require Coastal Commission approval. He also questioned whether the proposals were in line with the district’s own land-use plans.

The board voted to send the proposal back for further study by district staff and a board subcommittee, in consultation with the companies that submitted proposals. No date was set for bringing back a full recommendation to the full board.