Fairgrounds helps fund nearly $5 million in improvements

DEL MAR — Board members approved the transfer of $2.7 million from the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds, to the Del Mar Race Track Authority at the Feb. 15 meeting for more than a dozen projects in 2012.The RTA has more than $4.8 million in improvements planned this year. The remaining funding will come from its budget

At an estimated cost of $846,000, the largest project is restoration and monitoring. To comply with the terms of its permit from the California Coastal Commission for construction of the tunnel into the infield in the 1980s, RTA must monitor four potential nesting sites for the least tern for 10 years.

The San Diego Natural History Museum was contracted to provide those services for $120,000 annually. Anticipated restoration projects for 2012 are estimated at $726,000.

Food service improvements and equipment and vehicle replacement, at $834,839 and $819,100, respectively, round out the top three most expensive projects.

The RTA plans to renovate skyboxes on the sixth floor of the grandstand. Two of the three party rooms will be split to better accommodate smaller groups. The Paddock Pub will also be redesigned with a more contemporary look.

The expected return on investment is two years for both projects.

Just under $600,000 will be spent to improve racing equipment. In 2011 a two-year project was approved to replace the main video board at the finish line and a portable video board for infield patrons.

The new system can be taken apart and used in other areas throughout the year. Total cost was $1.4 million, with $800,000 paid last year.

Nearly $400,000 is earmarked to replace stairways, balconies and handrails in the stable area living quarters and barns that have deteriorated because of dry rot and termites. Flooring and missing and torn window screens will be replaced, and there will be repairs to restrooms, drains, laundry facilities and electrical equipment.

Grandstand improvements totaling more than $250,000 include replacing TVs with flat screen monitors and high-definition technology, painting, installing new tables, bases and umbrellas, and replacing seating counters, carpet and tile.

A $232,500 request for facility upgrades included $80,000 for electrical infrastructure improvements to the new west-end “special events area” where concerts were held during the 2011 race season.

According to the staff report, the new venue offered several new food and beverage locations, and improved safety and customer service that resulted in a 15 percent increase in sales.

Last year the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club spent $30,000 to rent portable generators for sound, lights and equipment used for food and beverage sales.

The infrastructure would be permanent and could be used for other events, the staff report states.

Jacqueline Winterer, former president of Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, asked if the concerts would continue on the stage that was relocated last year to the west side of the fairgrounds, if they required a permit and, if so, if it was legal to seek funding for a project without a permit.

Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said the stage was moved for safety reasons. Del Mar residents complained about the noise from post-race concerts.

“We will have concerts,” Board President Adam Day said, adding that the noise concerns were “heard loud and clear.”

He said the directional setting of the speakers will be changed and there will be other modifications.

Day also said the funding request was for electrical equipment, not a permanent sound stage.

Margaret Sohagi from Sohagi Law Group said the California Coastal Commission will address a coastal development permit application that includes a sound plan at its March meeting.

The approved funding will also be used for racetrack improvements including widening the track, technology and telecommunications upgrades, parking lot repairs, landscaping, horse park improvements and contingencies.

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