The California Coastal Commission last week authorized construction of the nearly completed 1,869-seat indoor concert hall and beer-tasting exhibit area in the Del Mar Fairgrounds off-track betting center.
The commission’s after-the-fact approval comes more than two years after construction began. Work started late then was suspended for months due to the pandemic and is only now nearing completion. The fairground plans to award a contract in April to a promoter and events manager for the facility, and shows could begin later this year.
“Our staff are still running the various network cabling for security cameras, Wi-Fi hotspots, locks on doors and things like that,” general manager Carlene Moore told the council. of directors of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which manages the fairgrounds. “We will soon be ready to open.”
The state commission, which oversees all coastal development, originally authorized the $13 million renovation project in October 2017. At the time, fairground officials were planning a fall 2019 opening.
One of the reasons for the delay was that the initial construction bids were too high, at around $19 million, and the board decided to scale back plans and re-offer the project. Additionally, the City of Solana Beach filed a lawsuit against the 22nd DAA in 2017, citing concerns about noise, traffic, air quality, and other environmental issues. The lawsuit was settled a few months later when the fairgrounds agreed to closely monitor these concerns.
But the 22nd DAA failed to submit final plans to the Coast Commission within two years and the original clearance expired. As a result, construction began without the coastal development permit required by the commission.
Last week’s authorization did not include any financial penalties, but the commission added several specific conditions to the project.
One was the requirement for a detailed landscaping plan using drought-resistant materials to protect the building from Boulevard Jimmy Durante and Via de la Valle. An 8-foot height limit was also added on any new sign; no large freestanding poles or signs on the roof; and for the first five years of operation, the fairground must monitor parking for all events and record the dates, names and types of events, number of attendees, number of parking spaces occupied and the location of parking areas used.
The Surfside Race Place off-track betting complex was built in the 1990s on the fairgrounds to serve a maximum capacity of 5,000 customers per day. However, since then, new tribal casinos and online gaming have steadily siphoned off much of its business. Attendance has long been well below the establishment’s capacity.
The original cone-shaped building has two floors with a partial third floor for mechanical equipment. The structure is 15 feet high at the perimeter and 60 feet high at the center.
The indoor concert venue is expected to be a year-round source of revenue for the fairgrounds, which has always relied primarily on the month-long San Diego County Fair followed by several weeks of annual horse racing.
Off-track betting will continue in part of the renovated building, where the new concert hall is expected to host 60 concerts a year. Exhibits will focus on the region’s emergence as a leader in the craft beer industry, the history of the San Diego County Fairgrounds, and horse racing at the fairgrounds.