DEL MAR — With the directors who govern the Del Mar Fairgrounds planning to approve a renovation project for Surfside Race Place on May 23, Del Mar council members outlined their concerns about converting the underused satellite wagering facility into a 1,900-seat entertainment venue.
At the May 15 meeting, Planning Director Kathy Garcia presented a list of potential issues that could impact Del Mar residents, such as traffic, especially if concerts are held during other fairgrounds events, noise and law enforcement coverage.
“We don’t want any events there impacting our one dedicated sheriff deputy, nor do we need our coverage to be diluted by various different calls to concert venues,” Garcia said. “That has not been really identified other than a couple of hypothetical, maybe what we would see more as bouncers, which is quite different than law enforcement.”
“I technically don’t think we’re required to provide law enforcement services to them,” City Manager Scott Huth said. “It’s our expectation that they contract directly with the sheriff for law enforcement services … so it doesn’t infringe on the city.”
He also noted that because the venue will only seat 1,900 people, all parking could be accommodated onsite.
Although it is an indoor venue, which Garcia described as a positive aspect, council members are requesting information about how noise that spills outside would be monitored. They will also ask for a detailed traffic management plan.
“My main concern has always been that they don’t know how to manage traffic at the end of an event,” Mayor Terry Sinnott said, adding that cars must be directed to the freeway and not through Del Mar.
In general, council members said they don’t completely oppose the project.
“An indoor concert venue that’s properly managed could be one of the least offensive things that they do,” Dwight Worden said.
It’s all about how they manage and operate it, he added.
“I actually think this will be a popular item if it gets built,” Ellie Haviland said. “I think there’s a demand for that in this area. … They should plan for that and have traffic control and security in their budget.”
Haviland said she would also like to see a specific list of other activities that will and will not be allowed to take place in the venue.
Dave Druker was the only council member who does not fully support the plans.
“This is not agricultural,” he said. “It just doesn’t fit in with the community. It doesn’t fit in with the lagoon. It doesn’t fit in with Del Mar. Anything we can do to encourage them to put the kibosh on this would be wonderful.”
Worden said he didn’t think that was an option.
“They’re a half million bucks into this project already,” he said. “They’re not going to back off.”
Surfside is an approximately 100,000-square-foot 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 around 350.
A study conducted by 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.
Satellite wagering will continue at the venue. The repurposed facility will also include restaurants, bars and an area to learn about the local craft brewery industry.
The project is expected to cost approximately $13.2 million and be completed in May 2018.
Because plans are for a remodel of an existing building, fair board directors believe an environmental review is not required. They are currently working with staff from the California Coastal Commission to see if an amendment is needed for existing permits.
The city will submit a letter outlining the concerns. Sinnott also plans to speak at the May 23 fair board meeting.