Fairgrounds sale proposal opens idea stream

Whether or not Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposal to sell the Del Mar Fairgrounds is having his intended effect is uncertain. But one thing is certain; the reaction generated by the announcement went from shock and horror to constructive debate and an unexpected window of opportunity.

The city of Del Mar is now considering a bid to buy the property and run the year-round operations, which have greatly shaped the city and surrounding area for the last 70 years. They voted Monday to send a letter to the governor’s office expressing interest.

Not a bad idea if Del Mar is willing to take the good with the bad and is open to preserving the fairgrounds and allowing for potential development.

The state’s financial predicament reflects its economic vulnerability. Council member Carl Hilliard will represent Del Mar in a conference next weekend in Sacramento on how strengthening local government can have a positive effect on the state as a whole.

This may be a great opportunity for the city to gain more independence and influence.

In a community essay published last Sunday in the Union-Tribune, Del Mar resident George Mullen suggested an even more provocative solution: that the Chargers either purchase the property or enter a public-private revenue sharing partnership with the state.

He argued that Petco Park occupies 18 acres, while the fairgrounds take up 406 acres. Qualcomm sits on an approximately 116-acre site in Mission Valley. He suggested that the stadium incorporate the existing Del Mar Arena and Surfside Race Place into its design and complete the concept with a state-of-the-art convention center.

The San Diego County Fair accommodated 88,087 visitors on July 3, its busiest day this year. Qualcomm’s record attendance was 68,810 on Jan. 14, 2007, in a playoff game against the New England Patriots. So parking and traffic wouldn’t be any worse than what we experience during the fair days - which may make it a no-go for many.

One critic of Mullen’s idea argued that race season, which runs Wednesdays through Sundays through the first week of September, would overlap with football season, which starts this year with a preseason home game on Aug. 9.

Accommodating upward of 70,000 football fans and a maximum of 35,000 racing fans is unlikely. But conflicting schedules aside, Mullen’s suggestion so far is widely praised and the most compelling we’ve heard yet.

The question is whether or not these groups will move fast enough for the fairgrounds’ cash-starved owners.

The city of Del Mar already has a significant Shores debt to tackle and the Chargers are looking anywhere and everywhere for a new home.

If you love or hate the ring of “the Del Mar Super Chargers,” write us a letter. If the city’s idea to buy the property or its business operations provokes you either way, let us know.