Plans for music venue at the fairgrounds sound good

Plans for music venue at  the fairgrounds sound good
Plans to transform Surfside Race Place into a concert venue may pencil out, it was recently reported. But no matter what happens to the currently underused facility at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the venue’s manager George Bradvica said satellite wagering will continue. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — Plans to transform Surfside Race Place into a concert venue may pencil out, Director Stephen Shewmaker told his colleagues during the Nov. 10 board meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds where the facility is located.

We’re not done with the business case yet but “the raw numbers look promising,” Shewmaker said.

The work-in-progress proposal calls for a 1,900-seat concert hall that would hold 60 shows annually. It also would include a craft beer tasting room and museum.

Satellite wagering will continue in the approximately 100,000-square-foot facility for which it was built in 1991.

It can accommodate about 5,000 people and at one point it attracted about 2,700, but a decrease in offsite betting has resulted in an average daily attendance of about 350.

In mid-2013 fairgrounds officials began looking for ways to turn Surfside back into a revenue-producing venue.

Initial proposals included a microbrewery, luxury theaters and a family entertainment center with high-tech bowling, but the latter two were deemed inappropriate for the site.

Fairgrounds officials then considered plans to repurpose the building into a microbrewery for local companies but a request for proposals netted no responses.

“Microbrewing is such an embedded industry in San Diego, but mostly you’re dealing with the smaller breweries, and this was maybe a little bit of a (financial) stretch for them,” Shewmaker said.

Shewmaker said subsequent research indicated a need for an indoor music venue in North County with the capacity to hold about 2,000 people.

He said the biggest hurdle at this point is the estimated $10 million to $15 million that will be needed to improve Surfside.

“I don’t know how we’re going to pay for that,” he said. “But there is a business case to go forward with it.”

In a perfect world groundbreaking could occur in late summer or early fall of 2016, fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell said, but that seems unlikely.

The 22nd DAA board must approve the proposal. So far the nine directors appear to support the plan.

“I really like this idea,” Director David Watson said when Shewmaker introduced the plan in August.

Financing must be secured and an RFP, which would take about 90 to 120 days, would be released.

But first Shewmaker needs to complete the business plan.

“We’re still pulling the number together,” he said. He expects to present his final report to the board in February at the earliest.

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