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Board nixes alternative use plans for Surfside

DEL MAR — A request for interest for alternative uses for an underused facility at the Del Mar Fairgrounds has been officially terminated, scrapping proposals to transform Surfside Race Place into a microbrewery, luxury theaters, a family entertainment center with high-tech bowling or a combination of all three.

During a presentation at the Feb. 11 board meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, Mark Anderson, vice president and general manager of Premier Food and Beverage, outlined plans for the brewery that included exhibits, a history of the San Diego brewing industry, a tasting room and modernizing the existing restaurant.

Anderson said after meeting with current and long-term beer partners, Premier, the fairgrounds’ contracted food and beverage provider, opted to go with Blue Moon, operator of the brewery at Coors Field in Denver.

The goal, Anderson said, is to build and operate a brewery that will revitalize the off-track betting facility that has seen a downward spiral in revenue over the years.

Surfside is an approximately 100,000-square-foot satellite wagering venue built in 1991 to accommodate 5,000 people. A decrease in offsite betting has resulted in an average daily attendance of only about 350.

Noting the craft beer culture has become a tourist attraction, Anderson estimates the $4 million facility could see a return on investment in less than four years, with a conservative 1,000 percent increase in revenue.

Although they don’t oppose the idea, several board members had issues with the presentation, which was listed as an action item in one section of the agenda and informational in another.

With friends and clients in the local brewing industry, attorney David Lizerbram said not using a San Diego brewer is a missed opportunity to promote area businesses, something director David Watson said several times is a “statutory obligation” of the 22nd DAA, which oversees the fairgrounds.

“We are a public agency with a public duty,” Watson said. “It’s more than just making money.”

Last April, board members directed staff to explore alternative uses for Surfside Race Place. A request for interest and qualifications was issued for about 30 days. Two proposals were initially submitted. A third— a partnership between the 22nd DAA and Premier — was added before all plans were presented to the board in August.

George Stevens, owner of the now-closed Stick and Stein sports bar in El Segundo, proposed a family entertainment center called New Stick that would focus on upscale bowling.

Also included was a video arcade area, indoor sports lounge with a virtual sports simulator, outdoor sports lounge with a fire pit, putting greens, bocce ball court, horseshoes and pingpong tables and a 6,600-square-foot banquet hall.

Enrique Landa from LandRock Development presented a proposal for Cinequus, which would feature traditional movie theaters on the first floor and, on the second floor, upscale theaters similar to nearby Cinépolis in Del Mar Highlands Shopping Plaza.

It would also include tasting rooms for wine and beer.

Watson said the other two companies were “very unhappy” when Premier’s proposal was added. Director Adam Day said Premier’s partnership with the 22nd DAA gives the company an “unfair competitive advantage.”

Watson, also an attorney, agreed. We invited members of the private sector to bring us their ideas and then we use our own partner, he said hypothetically. “That smacks of an unfair process,” he added. “I would be calling my lawyer.

“The entire process hasn’t been fair or transparent,” he said. “I think the process we’re in now is so completely tainted.”

He added that bringing in an outside national company to compete with local businesses “is completely outside of our statutory mandate.”

Day said he couldn’t support moving forward for several reasons, including a lack of financial information. He also said he didn’t think the RFI was well distributed.

“I feel less and less comfortable about this every day,” he said.

Directors voted 7-0, with President Fred Schenk absent, to terminate the RFI and notify Stevens and Landa they will not be moving forward with their proposals, plans Watson said also presented land use issues and likely concerns from the California Coastal Commission.

Anderson said he didn’t take the action personally. He said part of his job is to constantly improve food and beverage service at the fairgrounds. This was one of about a dozen projects he’s presented in nearly 25 years to increase revenue.

Directors also voted 6-1 to direct staff to work with Premier and return with other proposals for the brewery.

“I didn’t feel we had explored all the potential uses for the vacant space in enough detail, nor had we reached out nearly far enough to the private sector for ideas,” Day said in explaining his dissenting vote. “That being said, the board voted and I will respect and support the board’s position.”

This story was corrected on Feb. 14. The article misidentified the operator of the brewery. The correct brewer is Blue Moon.


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