What’s Next For The Del Mar Fairgrounds?
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / February 11, 2020
Speaker 1: 00:00 Times are changing. And now a state appointed board is working to keep up with those changing times to find out what works and what doesn't. At the Del Mar fair grounds, gun shows are barred interest in horse racing has fallen off, bare attendance has decreased and the Kubu music festival has found a new home. So what does the future of the Del Mar fairgrounds look like? Phil deal has been looking into that future. He is a reporter with the San Diego union Tribune and joins us now. Feel welcome. Hello. Welcome to you. Uh, you know, the board that controls the fairgrounds has launched this strategic planning process, uh, tonight. The first of a series of workshops will be held. Is this the first step in the strategic planning process?
Speaker 2: 00:41 It is. It's a one of four meetings they're going to hold this year and they invite community members and local leaders like mayors and council members to participate and talk about what they like or don't like about the things that happen at the fairgrounds.
Speaker 1: 00:57 So, and tell me what's going to happen next.
Speaker 2: 01:00 Um, they will compile this information into some recommendations. What really needs to happen is they have to get a lot of money because anything they do is going to be expensive. They'll talk about maybe replacing some of the, uh, exhibition buildings and, and building new facilities and that sort of thing. They have created strategic plans a few times in the past and they do some of the things, but they don't know how to always have money to do all the things they'd like to do.
Speaker 1: 01:31 Mmm. Yeah. Speaking of money, the money being made at the fairgrounds has been steadily declining. One reason is because of declining revenue from horse racing. Walk us through the reason for that.
Speaker 2: 01:41 Uh, well, horse racing has had a few challenges recently. There's just a greater interest in animal welfare these days, but there's been some high profile problems with racing, especially at Santa Anita, which holds it's race season just before Del Mar holds it's race season. So it gets a lot of attention. And Santa Anita has had a lot of, uh, horses that were injured or put down there and that focuses negative attention on the sport.
Speaker 1: 02:13 Mmm. Uh, and what about the gambling competition?
Speaker 2: 02:16 And the gambling competition is another thing. A lot of native American casinos, tribal casinos have opened up. Um, there are a lot of off track betting facilities that have opened in the, in recent years. And online gambling especially more recently, uh, has all taken business from the track at Del Mar. People don't have to show up and go to the windows to place their bets so much anymore.
Speaker 1: 02:42 Um, but while there has been a decrease in horse racing revenue altogether, there has been an increase in food and beverage sales at the facility. Is that right?
Speaker 2: 02:50 That's right. So they put a new emphasis on like gourmet meals and fancy drinks and also after the races events, they more concerts where they can sell more food and beverages. So that has increased that part of the income for them.
Speaker 1: 03:07 Hmm. And tell me a bit about the County fair. Speaking of, of uh, revenue from food and beverage, uh, why has a, there have been a decline in attendance for that?
Speaker 2: 03:16 It's hard to say exactly why it peaked in 2016. Uh, and it's declined slightly since then. And one reason is they haven't increased the length of the fairs since then. That's one way that they boost attendances. They, uh, have gradually over the decades increased the length of the fair. Uh, but then it also depends on things like the weather and, uh, overall economy. So, uh, they're just looking at ways to increase attendance there.
Speaker 1: 03:49 Many of our listeners know the facility for being the site of the fairgrounds in horse racing, but it also has some lesser known uses. Talk to us about those
Speaker 2: 03:57 or hundreds of events there every year. And there are a lot of flower shows and bridal fairs and just all kinds of events. And some of those things have changed over the years. One thing that's going away next year is the gun show, um, the crossroads of the West gun show that's held there five times a year. It draws a lot of people and it's a source of revenue. Like there's a contract, the fair board meets today also, and there's a contract for March, a gun show in March, and the rent for that is $11,000. Uh, so it's just one thing that's going away. And another source of revenue.
Speaker 1: 04:40 Have they found any success with the uh, with it being used as an equestrian facility and golf center?
Speaker 2: 04:46 Oh yeah. They have the golf, they have a golf center there. It's right along the I five and it has a driving range. It's, it's got a couple of miniature golf courses. It has an electronic simulated golf thing that simulates courses around the world. I think it has a lot of attractions and, and it has done well the last few years so they probably would like to get more things like that.
Speaker 1: 05:13 A new arena at the fairgrounds is being built. What uh, is that expected to be used for?
Speaker 2: 05:18 Right. That is going in at the off track wagering facility. The Surfside race place, which, uh, was built in the 90s. It's a big two story building along Jimmy Durante Boulevard at sort of the Northern end of the fairgrounds I believe. And it has never done as well as hoped for all the reasons we talked about before. There's a lot of competition that draws people away from there. So they are renovating that building to put in a new arena where they will hold a lot of, uh, music concerts and special events. And, uh, they're also looking at things like e-sports, which attracts a lot of people to play competitive online games. So that's a big change that's coming to the fairgrounds.
Speaker 1: 06:03 Where do you suppose funding to make some of the changes that they want to make to the fairgrounds might come from?
Speaker 2: 06:09 Uh, that's a good question. Pretty much all the funding that they get comes from revenue, from the events that they produce. They could issue bonds. That's what they did when they rebuilt the grand stands there in the early nineties. I think that was, uh, they issued $80 million in bonds to rebuild. What were the original grant stands? Were wooden and basically pretty rundown. So they replaced us with the building that's there now by using bonds. So that's another possibility.
Speaker 1: 06:39 Mm. And so ultimately this strategic planning process is looking at possible future uses of the property. What are some of the possibilities being thrown around right now?
Speaker 2: 06:48 They're open to possibilities. I have not heard that many suggestions. I mean, it's always going to be agricultural based, most likely because that's what's held there. I mean, the Fair's been held for over a hundred years and the fairgrounds have been there since the 1930s and the mission of the agricultural district that owns the property is to promote agriculture and related event. So I don't imagine it will stray too far from that in the near future.
Speaker 1: 07:18 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune reporter Phil deal. Thank you very much, Phil. You're welcome. Tonight's strategic plan workshop begins at 5:00 PM at the fairgrounds mission tower building.
The state-appointed board that oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds has launched a strategic planning process that will look into the future of the property.