Fair to book new concert venue in-house

DEL MAR — Rather than contract with an outside third-party, the 22nd District Agricultural Association opted in closed session at the Feb. 13 meeting to find and book talent itself for a concert venue slated for a portion of Surfside Race Place.

The 22nd DAA, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds where the facility is located, issued a request for proposals to book up to 60 performances annually, but ultimately decided its staff, “steeped with extensive experience in booking entertainment for the San Diego County Fair (is) best suited for the job,” according to a press release.

“Withdrawing the RFP and associated notice of award was the right decision,” said Joshua Goldman, a spokesman for KAABOOWorks Services LLC, one of three companies that responded to the October 2017 RFP. “It was a flawed process and we are glad the board took this step.”

After reviewing bids from KAABOO, Music Box and Belly Up Entertainment, an evaluation committee recommended going with the latter.

Before the contract was awarded, KAABOO protested the decision, claiming, among other things, the RFP did not comply with state contracting requirements, involved a predetermined outcome and “was essentially a sham.”

KAABOO organizes the upscale, three-day entertainment festival of the same name that has been held at the fairgrounds each September since 2015.

Goodman said its proposal came in lower and offered a greater economic impact.

“So, we just want to know why we weren’t selected,” he added.

Chris Goldsmith, president of Belly Up Entertainment, objected to KAABOO’s original proposal and rejected claims made by the festival organizer.

“We have no comment at this time as we are reviewing the decision and our position,” Goldsmith said when asked to respond to the board’s recent decision.

Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell said prior to releasing the RFP there were discussions about using in-house entertainment booking services.

“I’ve got a pretty talented staff,” he said. “But there were some who thought we needed to look outside to see what was available. The events must complement the other events here and the community. We got two great bids.”

Fennell said going in-house doesn’t exclude other promoters from bringing in talent since that process is used to book performers for the fair.

“If there’s a good deal out there, we’re going to entertain it,” he said. “We want great acts from whoever brings them in.”

Asked if the decision to cancel the RFP was a move to potentially avoid a lawsuit, Fennell said, “Given the scenario, we did what was in the best interest of the fairgrounds.”

Surfside is an approximately 100,000-square-foot satellite wagering facility built in 1991 to accommodate 5,000 people. At one point it attracted about 2,700, but a decrease in offsite betting has resulted in an average daily attendance of about 350.

A feasibility study conducted by students at California State University San Marcos concluded that repurposing about 40 percent of the facility 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.

Current plans are for 60 concerts a year, or about five a month.

Board members adopted a resolution at the Feb. 13 meeting approving a $13.5 million request for financing from California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, also known as IBank.

The 1,869-seat venue is scheduled to open in spring 2019.


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