DEL MAR — Proposals to transform an underused facility at the Del Mar Fairgrounds into a microbrewery, luxury theaters, a family entertainment center with high-tech bowling or a combination of all three raised myriad concerns when presented Aug. 13 to the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors.Director David Watson, a land use attorney, said the projects were not consistent with the mission statement of the state-owned facility, an environmental impact report for expansion plans there or coastal development permits the district is seeking from the California Coastal Commission for those plans.
“There are a whole host of land-use regulatory issues,” Watson 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.
In its heyday the building attracted about 2,700 people a day, according to Tim Fennell, fairgrounds general manager.
Due to a decrease in offsite betting, “Now, if we’re lucky, we get 450 or 475,” he said.
Adding uses at Surfside will provide opportunities “to keep jobs and raise tax revenue for the local community,” Fennell said.
A request for interest and qualifications for alternative uses for the building was issued for about 30 days. Initially, two proposals were submitted, but a third — a partnership between the 22nd DAA, which governs the fairgrounds, and its contracted food and beverage vendor, Premier Food Services — was recently added.
Mark Anderson, Premier’s vice president, outlined plans for Equus Brewing and Gardens that would feature tasting rooms, an exhibit area that would include a history of beer-making in San Diego and an education center offering classes on how to become a brewer.
Anderson said the estimated $4 million project was more of an anchor business than a standalone.
“It complements the other proposals,” he said. “We could do this even if you chose one of the others.”
Anderson said plans include hiring a brew master and serving the product during other fairgrounds events. It currently does not include a bottling component, but that could be added later, or a restaurant, which was cost prohibitive.
Fennell described it as an “in-house” project that would be funded by the 22nd DAA and managed by Premier.
“It pencils out,” Anderson said. “The goal is to make it functional and pay for itself.”
George Stevens, owner of the now-closed Stick and Stein sports bar in El Segundo, proposed a family entertainment center called New Stick.
The focus would be on upscale bowling and plans call to install 20 state-of-the-art lanes in Surfside.
Also included are a 5,750-square-foot video arcade area, 3,000-square-foot indoor sports lounge with a virtual sports simulator, 8,000-square-foot outdoor sports lounge with a fire pit, putting greens, bocce ball court, horseshoes and pingpong tables and a 6,600-square-foot banquet hall.
A representative from the largest bowling equipment vendor said the sport “is doing really well in California.”
He called the proposal a “revenue machine.”
“This fits right into the mission statement,” Stevens said. “It’s good, fun, wholesome … family entertainment.”
Enrique Landa from LandRock Development presented a proposal for Cinequus, which would feature traditional movie theaters on the first floor and, on the second floor, upscale theaters similar to nearby Cinépolis in Del Mar Highlands Shopping Plaza.
It would also include tasting rooms for wine and beer, which Landa said were both agricultural products.
Watson had concerns the proposals would compete with, rather than promote, existing area businesses, which is contrary to the 22nd DAA mission statement. Landa disagreed.
“There are very few people we would compete with if we build a movie theater here,” he said. “We won’t take away from other businesses. It enhances them and we’ll promote families.”
Watson called all three proposals interesting but speculative. “I don’t think everything has been thought through,” he said.
“We’ve spent two-and-a-half years trying to get out of the buzz saw we were in,” he said, referring to lawsuits that were filed and ultimately settled in response to expansion plans that include replacing exhibit halls and adding offices and a parking structure.
“I don’t want to jump off the cliff into another one,” he added.
Watson said the district cannot do anything that intensifies use of the 340-acre facility.
Directors Russ Penniman and Stephen Shewmaker will work with fairgrounds staff and the interested parties to create revenue projections from the three proposals and find a way to integrate them.
Director Fred Schenk recommended they “take the best of all three … to promote recreation and cultural information … to meet our needs, gain approval of the Coastal Commission and create opportunities for the community.”
The board tentatively plans to revisit the plans in January.
Architect Paul Allen, who worked on the New Stick plans, declined to comment after the decision but said a lot of time and effort was spent on developing the $6 million proposal.
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