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Fair board gives the OK to revenue-generating plans

DEL MAR — The 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors supported a handful of measures at the April 10 meeting to potentially increase revenue for the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the state-owned facility it is tasked with overseeing. 

As part of the consent calendar, directors approved a five-year, $1.3 million agreement with The Sleep Train, a move that will make the company the San Diego County Fair’s exclusive mattress partner and add a sign to O’Brien Hall.

The district will receive $260,000 this year and between $265,000 and $275,000 annually until 2017. As part of the partnership, Sleep Train and the fairgrounds will create a Foster Kids Day at the Fair.

O’Brien Hall was completed in June 1980 and named for longtime Surf Club member and Del Mar resident Pat O’Brien. For the duration of the agreement, a “Sponsored by Sleep Train” sign will be added to the building.

Items on the consent calendar are enacted with one vote unless pulled for discussion by a member of the public or board.

Directors also agreed to allow staff to explore alternative uses for Surfside Race Place, an approximately 100,000-square-foot satellite wagering facility built in 1991 to accommodate 5,000 people. Average daily attendance is currently only about 350.

“It’s a woefully underutilized facility that we spent a lot of money constructing,” board President Adam Day said.

Directors said they support the idea of a private/public partnership with the caveats that there will always be space for off-track betting, there are no parking impacts during the fair and horse race seasons and the activities are “sympathetic and compatible with the community.”

Tim Fennell, fairgrounds general manager, agreed, saying they must “complement what we do here” and produce revenue and jobs.

Letters seeking ideas and outlining the parameters will be sent to the private sector.

We may not come back with a lot but we want to be in a position where we can pick and choose what’s good for us, Day said.

Directors also authorized Fennell to formalize an agreement that will allow Silky Sullivan’s Race and Sports Bar in Carlsbad to operate a mini satellite-wagering site.

In an effort to widen the distribution of the horseracing signal at brick-and-mortar sites, in 2007 the state approved the development of 45 mini satellites, which are regulated and licensed by the California Horse Racing Board.

If a potential restaurant or sports bar is within a 20-mile radius of an existing racetrack — which is the case in this instance — the applicant must be granted a waiver from the facility.

Under the five-year agreement that includes an option to renew for an additional three-years, the 22nd DAA will receive between 1 percent and 1.2 percent annually. Estimated revenue for the district is between $100,000 and $150,000 a year.

Silky Sullivan’s is expected to open in May, pending approval from Carlsbad and licensing from the California Horse Racing Board.

In other news, Directors Russ Penniman and Stephen Shewmaker were assigned to a subcommittee to find consultants to help with the financial planning to replace some of the aging exhibit halls at the fairgrounds.

“It’s important to get this process started,” Day said. “It’s going to take many years. … We want to determine what it’s going to cost and what we can afford.”

Director David Watson reported that earlier in the day the California Coastal Commission approved the turf track-widening project that will increase safety for jockeys and horses as well as make the fairgrounds eligible for the Breeders’ Cup.

The track will be widened by 25 percent toward the inside rail. The $4 million project will begin Sept. 5, the day after the 2013 horse racing season ends, and is expected to take eight months to complete.

Watson also said by this time next year the overflow south parking lot will look “markedly different” as the district continues efforts to bring portions of the fairgrounds into environmental compliance required by the state.

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