Fairgrounds concert venue approved

Fairgrounds concert venue approved
A concert venue and beer-tasting exhibit area at Surfside Race Place could be up and pouring this time next year. Work is slated to begin next month on the $13 million project recently OK’d by the California Coastal Commission. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — Plans to convert about 40 percent of Surfside Race Place into a nearly 1,870-seat concert venue and 7,000-square-foot beer-tasting exhibit area were approved by the California Coastal Commission after being moved to the consent calendar at the Oct. 12 meeting.

While that meant it was authorized without dissention or discussion, it included a handful of added conditions.

The coastal development permit will initially be valid for five years, until Oct. 11, 2022. However, the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which owns and operates the Del Mar Fairgrounds where the facility is located, can apply for renewal before it expires.

During the life of the permit, the fairgrounds must annually submit data to the commission that includes the dates and types of all events and total attendance.

There is also a parking monitoring requirement for information such as the number of spaces used by performers and attendees and the location of the parking areas that are used.

The commission will use the data to ensure parking is being adequately served onsite and determine if modifications are needed.

Usage levels and trip generation of the remodeled Surfside are expected to be below the facility’s peak capacity of 5,500.

“Additionally, a project-specific focused transportation analysis found that the level of service at the adjacent intersections will not substantially increase during the weekday PM peak hours — the heaviest traffic load — when a concert may occur,” the staff report states. “Thus, the expected traffic during peak beach demand times on weekends should not be impacted.”

According to the staff report, a concert venue introduces the risk that noise generation will adversely impact the nearby wetland habitat and wildlife.

Therefore, substantial noise- or light-generating outdoor activities related to inside events, including but not limited to strobe lights, pyrotechnics, searchlights and outdoor speakers or stages, are prohibited.

Final plans must be submitted to the commission before the permit is issued. There can be no deviation and any development beyond that will require a separate amendment. Attendance is capped at 1,869 seats.

Surfside is an approximately 100,000-square-foot satellite wagering facility that opened in 1991 to accommodate about 5,500 people. At one point it attracted around 2,700, but a decrease in offsite betting has resulted in an average daily attendance of less than 450.

Fair board members for nearly four years have been considering options to make the venue profitable.

Studies conducted by fairgrounds staff and students from California State University San Marcos concluded that turning it into an entertainment venue would be “highly profitable,” with a return on investment in less than five years if at least 90 concerts are held annually.

However, according to a press release issued last month, the fairgrounds will host about 60 concerts a year.

Most events are expected to occur weekdays starting around 7 p.m., with some weekend daytime and evening activities that could include lectures, acrobatics, cultural events and plays.

Del Mar and Solana Beach expressed concerns about impacts to the two cities. Solana Beach filed a lawsuit in June challenging the 22nd DAA’s assertion that an environmental review was not necessary because it is a remodel of an existing building.

Last month, in a letter to the commission, Solana Beach’s city manager stated the city and district reached an “agreement in principle to resolve the issues” related to the project and Solana Beach no longer opposes it.

The $13 million renovation is slated to begin in December, with a fall 2018 opening date expected. Satellite wagering will continue at Surfside.

“With the downturn in off-track wagering, we’re very excited about transforming this facility into a concert venue that will become a community asset enjoyed by our neighbors and the general public,” fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell stated in the press release. “It will generate jobs and we hope new horse racing customers as well.”

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