SAN DIEGO — The sport of kings will likely continue at its current location east of the Del Mar Fairgrounds for at least three more years.
Following an Oct. 16 meeting with representatives from San Diego’s real estate assets division, Steve Lewandowski, community relations director for the polo club, said both sides agreed to a 36-month lease and the city will hold off on releasing a request for proposals for a possible new tenant at the 80-acre site on the corner of Via de la Valle and El Camino Real.
“We didn’t ink anything today,” said Lewandowski, who has been a match announcer for the past 22 years. “But we’re very optimistic everything is resolved. They want us and we want to be there.”
Polo began locally in 1906 in Coronado and has been part of San Diego history longer than the Padres or Chargers. It moved to its current location in 1987 with a 25-year lease, which expired and converted to a month-to-month agreement this past March.
Because the property hadn’t been out to bid for more than two decades, city officials felt doing so was “appropriate to see what other proposals might surface,” said Darren Pudgil, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders.
But an RFP was never issued, primarily because of an ongoing project to widen El Camino Real. Meanwhile, the polo club has been in limbo, hesitant to invest in upgrades or new equipment without the guarantee of a permanent home.
Lewandowski said the club also was recently forced to turn down a lacrosse tournament on the site because that group needed a three-year commitment.
Polo is played from June through September. The club leases the fields to soccer, lacrosse and rugby teams during the offseason.
“That cost us a lot,” Lewandowski said, adding that local cities lost hotel, restaurant and retail revenue as well. “Everybody got hurt. Nobody won.”
Those activities have come under fire from environmental groups such as Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, which filed a civil action against the club when it began disking the public trail next to river and using the degraded trail and buffer zone as an exercise track for ponies.
Lewandowski said the club “is committed” to completing all required restoration.
He also said Jim Barwick from the real estate assets division told him the widening project may not be complete for three years so the city is willing to “table the RFP” for now.
With the promise of a new lease, even if it’s only for 36 months, Lewandowski said the polo club is planning to take on some of its deferred maintenance, such as irrigation, and buy new equipment, rather than lease it, as it has been doing.
“And we can tell these other entities to come on down,” he said. “This is really good news. It’s a big breakthrough and we’re just delighted.”
The club paid the city about $120,000 annually during the past five years.
Lewandowski said a general framework was discussed Oct. 16, but finances were not. He said he expects to have something in writing from the city within the next 60 days.
Barwick had not returned a phone call at press time.