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Fairgrounds entertainment venue moving forward

DEL MAR — Construction should soon be underway on the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ Surfside Race Place, a currently underutilized, 90,000-square-foot satellite wagering facility and soon-to-be entertainment destination.

At a Feb. 12 meeting, fairgrounds staff announced construction bid results for a project aimed at turning about 65 percent of the facility into a “multipurpose entertainment venue.” The four bids ranged from $11.2 million to $13.1 million and put the project within financial reach after several years of planning.

“This is a giant step forward for us,” said Steve Shewmaker, president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board, which governs the fairgrounds.

The board and fairgrounds staff have been seeking out a revenue-generating use for the building since 2013 — eventually landing on the idea of a concert venue with an approximately 1,900-person capacity. The venue will have a balcony area and VIP sections. The project will also yield a beer tasting and exhibit area.

The building will still maintain its offsite betting purposes, though to a smaller degree.

Although conceptualized as a concert venue, the site will host entertainment “of all types,” including seminars, weddings or business meetings, according to Gary Reist, the fairgrounds’ now former deputy general manager.

The 90,000-square-foot Surfside Race Place was built as a satellite wagering facility in 1991 to accommodate 5,000 people. As offsite betting has decreased, the building’s average daily attendance is only about 350. The 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors is moving forward with a project to transform 40 of the venue into an entertainment facility. Photo by Lexy Brodt.

The project was delayed in May 2018 after bids came in higher than anticipated — staff went back to the drawing board and eliminated several elements from the original plan, such as a space highlighting San Diego’s history, a beer garden and a slate of heating and ventilation upgrades.

The current, pared-down project now awaits approval of a $15 million, 20-year loan from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (“IBank”), to cover the costs of “entitling, permitting, designing, engineering and constructing” the venue, according to the resolution approved 8-0 at the 22nd DAA board’s meeting, with Director Pierre Sleiman absent. IBank’s board will be considering the approval of the loan at a Feb. 27 meeting.

The loan is also contingent on the Department of General Service’s approval of the project, which Shewmaker anticipates should go through, with “no controversy.”

Shewmaker presented the idea for a concert venue at Surfside Race Place in the summer of 2015, after the 22nd DAA had been exploring options for the venue for over two years. Early ideas for a bowling alley or movie theater were scrapped in 2014.

The 22nd DAA has spent about $1.5 million on the project thus far, by way of architectural, engineering and project management services from California Construction Authority.

In an email to The Coast News, Reist said he anticipates construction will begin in late March, with the new facility’s grand opening to take place in March of 2020.

“I’m very pleased with where we’re at, and finally after I don’t know how many years, we’re finally going to get this thing going,” Shewmaker said.

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