Fairgrounds CEO says Del Mar’s intent to purchase property is ‘Not a Good Deal’


By Marlena Chavira-Medford

Staff Writer

Fairgrounds CEO Tim Fennell told Solana Beach City Council members that Del Mar’s plan to buy the property is “flawed” and “not a good deal.”

Fennell addressed the council during its Nov. 17 meeting, a few weeks after Del Mar Mayor Richard Earnest and Del Mar City Councilmember Carl Hilliard presented their case outlining why the city should own the property.

The City of Del Mar reached a deal in October with the governor’s office to purchase the property for $120 million, a price tag that would be paid through bonds, a loan from the state, and a $30 million, prepaid 55-year lease to a group of horsemen.

Fennell pointed out concerns he had with the plan, saying he didn’t think it was a good idea to “borrow money from the cash-strapped state” and adding that there is a “windfall” for the private investors because over the life the proposed lease they “will pocket more than $300 million, which will no longer be invested into the property.”

He also said the plan doesn’t address start-up costs, has no bidding process, and “in our opinion was negotiated behind closed doors.”

“I don’t think it’s any secret that the City of Del Mar has created stumbling blocks for virtually every improvement on the fairgrounds in the last 18 years,” he added. Some examples of that, he said, include the purchase of Horsepark, the new multi-use livestock barn, a new roof over the area, the activity center, and a tent for volleyball training that would be used by high school girls.

Fennell said there has been $191 million worth of upgrades to the property over the past 18 years, so the proposed $120 million purchase price is less than the cost of recent capital improvements.

He also pointed out that the City of Del Mar wants to limit events at the fairgrounds, which he said for Solana Beach would mean “less jobs for your residents, less sales tax, less hotel tax, less opportunities and will disenfranchise the three million San Diego County residents.

“We feel we are a community asset to the city of Solana Beach, through increased sales tax, hotel tax, and from individuals who attend events at the fairgrounds and then eat, shop and sleep in the city,” he said.

The Farm Bureau and the Western Fairs Association also oppose the sale, he said.

Solana Beach City Councilman Dave Roberts, who sits on a subcommittee of Del Mar and Solana Beach officials who are conducting an ongoing discussion about the potential sale, said the group would like to start talks with fairgrounds management. The fairgrounds impacts the community of Solana Beach greatly and, in the past, the city has been “stymied every way we’ve turned” when trying to get the fair board to address those effects.

The state senate must approve the sale agreement, which has been introduced under Assembly Bill 181. Fennell described the legislation as “dead at this point,” adding however, that he believed a new bill was in the works and would likely be reintroduced in December.

Solana Beach has fairgrounds proposal for Del Mar

After being asked to publically support Del Mar’s possible purchase of the fairgrounds, it appears Solana Beach has a counter offer, although the details are still being kept under wraps.

At a special meeting on Nov. 18, Solana Beach City Attorney Johanna Canlas announced that, during a closed session, the council had agreed to finalize a proposal for the City of Del Mar regarding the fairgrounds purchase. She said the document discusses “general goals, acquisition of the property, benefits of working together, organizational structures, land use control, and sharing expenses.”

An ad hoc committee, consisting of Solana Beach Mayor Tom Campbell, Solana Beach Councilman Dave Roberts, Del Mar Mayor Richard Earnest and Del Mar Councilman Carl Hilliard, have been meeting privately to discuss the details of the potential fairgrounds purchase for the past month.

This latest proposal will be reviewed by Del Mar officials this week, and it will be discussed by the ad hoc committee. Based on how those talks go, an announcement regarding that proposal could become public soon. No announcement had been made at press time.