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Optional uses for Surfside to be presented

DEL MAR — Two proposals for alternative uses of Surfside Race Place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds will be presented to the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors at a future meeting, likely in August. 

One of them, however, may not be a viable option as it likely goes beyond activities authorized under a land-use agreement at the state-owned facility, Director David Watson said.

“I don’t think the people who applied were aware of that,” said Watson, a land-use attorney who is chairman of the land-use committee for the 22nd DAA, which governs the fairgrounds.

One proposal for a family entertainment center with a focus on upscale bowling is from the company that owned Stick and Stein, a sports bar in El Segundo that closed in 2011. It had healthy and safety violations during inspections in 2008 and 2009.

Called New Stick, the plans submitted to the 22nd DAA include installing bowling lanes in Surfside.

Fair board Director Stephen Shewmaker said the business would be similar to Lucky Strike bowling, which has venues at L.A Live, in San Francisco and nationwide.

The second, more problematic proposal called for an upscale movie theater as well as a drive-in, although Shewmaker said those plans could be scaled down so the project is confined to Surfside as is required.

When the projects were initially introduced at the June 4 22nd DAA meeting, Watson said that one in particular could present “huge, huge regulatory stumbling blocks.”

He said he didn’t want to “undo” any of the legal issues just settled between the 22nd DAA, California Coastal Commission, Sierra Club and adjacent cities.

“I’m not willing to open up land-use issues,” Watson said, adding the proposals “are just ideas that have been suggested.”

“They haven’t been blessed,” he said.

In April, board members directed 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.

A decrease in offsite betting has resulted in an average daily attendance of only about 350.

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

Directors support a private/public partnership as long as there is always 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.”

A request for interest and qualifications was available for about 30 days, Shewmaker said.

“People had shown interest but at the end of the day we only received two proposals,” he said. “With the uniqueness of situating something in the middle of a race track and fair we didn’t expect a lot of responses.”

Both companies will be invited to each give 15-minute presentations. The proposals were slated to be presented during a special June 17 meeting to discuss the proposed joint powers authority between the 22nd DAA and the county for governance of the fairgrounds, however, that has been canceled.

Public comment on the proposals is welcome.

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