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Del Mar Fairgrounds Asks Public To Write Politicians For COVID-19 Funds

Aerial view of the San Diego County Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Credit: San Diego County Fair & Del Mar Fairgrounds

Above: Aerial view of the San Diego County Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The operators of the Del Mar Fairgrounds say $20 million in federal economic aid is needed to stay afloat amid the loss of revenue stemming from the coronavirus-caused cancellation of this year's San Diego Fair, and are asking San Diegans to help lobby government officials for the funding.

Tim Fennell, CEO of the fairgrounds, said if the organization doesn't get the relief, it could close permanently.

"From creating cherished family memories and generating $680 million in economic impact, to serving as an essential evacuation site during wildfires and providing nearly 4,000 full-time-equivalent jobs, losing the fairgrounds would leave a giant void in San Diego as we know it," Fennell wrote on a website launched to help stay operational. "Although the fairgrounds is owned by the state of California, its operations are entirely self-funded, meaning it relies on event revenues to operate."

The fairgrounds makes more than half its money -- about $12 million annually -- through the San Diego Fair, which was to have been held June 5 through July 5.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the fairgrounds, asked Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this month to allocate $20 million of the state's portion of the economic aid package approved by Congress in March to assist government agencies as part of COVID-19 relief.

This week, a plea for public support was made on the savethefairgrounds.com website.

"Save your fairgrounds by letting your government officials know the dynamic impacts this space holds in San Diegans' hearts," it says. "Together, we can save the fairgrounds for generations to come."

In the meantime, Fennell said they're trying to be creative with revenue sources. The parking lots at the fairgrounds have been leased to car rental companies, with have parked roughly 4,000 vehicles there. They also are trying to offer a drive-thru food fair, with plans to expand to a larger event featuring fair foods still working their way through the permitting process, Fennell said.

One of the other big draws at the fairgrounds is the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club racing season. The club announced Thursday that it plans to start its racing season on July 10, pending the approval of the California Horse Racing Board, which is expected to make a decision at its June 11 meeting.

The track would operate without spectators for the foreseeable future, according to track officials.

Originally scheduled to open on July 18, the track's operators proposed moving up the start date to fit its usual amount of races in, despite an abbreviated schedule.

"We want to begin the meet earlier and offer horsemen the same number of opportunities to run as we have for the last several summer seasons," said Tom Robbins, executive vice president of racing for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. "And because the San Diego Fair was canceled this year, our track maintenance team will be preparing our racing surfaces earlier and we'll be able to have horses on-site sooner than in the past."

The proposed schedule calls for 291 races over nine weeks. The track ran 297 races over its eight-week summer program last year.

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