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Solana Beach concert venue and entertainment company Belly Up will serve as the events manager and promoter for the nearly-completed concert venue and theater in the Del Mar Fairgrounds' renovated Surfside Race Place building, now called The Center.
Solana Beach concert venue and entertainment company Belly Up will serve as the events manager and promoter for the nearly-completed concert venue and theater in the Del Mar Fairgrounds' renovated Surfside Race Place building, now called The Center. Conceptual illustration courtesy of Del Mar Fairgrounds
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Belly Up selected to manage new Fairgrounds concert venue

SOLANA BEACH — Longtime North County concert venue and entertainment company Belly Up has been named as events manager and promoter for the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ nearly-finished indoor concert space in the Surfside Race Place, just down the road from their existing Solana Beach venue.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association, the board managing the Fairgrounds, approved the contract valued at over $16 million with Belly Up on April 8, bringing to an end an at times contentious three-year search for a venue manager.

Under their contract, Belly Up will be charged with managing a performance operation with nearly 1,900 seats and around 60 bookings per year in the 90,000 square-foot Surfside Race Place, first built in the 1990s as a satellite wagering facility.
As the use of the facility dwindled over the years, the Fairgrounds decided to renovate two-thirds of the building into a concert and entertainment space in order to bring in more annual revenue.

The Center, as the building will be renamed, will include a main stage and tiered seating as well as a beer-tasting exhibit hall to be managed by Premier Food and Service. Private events will also be permitted in the space, and the building will continue to host district offices and satellite wagering, or offtrack betting.

“It’s very early in the process, so there will be a lot more to talk about as the plans develop, but the bottom line is that San Diego County is about to have a new jewel of a venue as part of its entertainment landscape and we’re really excited to be a part of it,” said Belly Up Entertainment president Chris Goldsmith.

This isn’t the first time the company has been awarded the events manager and promoter contract. The 22nd DAA first selected Belly Up for the role in 2018 but rescinded the offer after competitor KAABOOWorks Services, LLC, filed a protest alleging that the request for proposals process violated state contracting guidelines.

Due to COVID-induced slowdowns in facility construction, the issuance of a new management contract was delayed until earlier this year. This time, Belly Up was the only applicant.

“Through a competitive bidding process, we sought a highly qualified entertainment promotion and management company to become a collaborative partner with us.” 22nd District Agricultural Association CEO Carlene Moore said during the April 8 meeting. “They’ll be working to bring complementary entertainment and educational programming into the venue, and to have that work in tandem with our other activities taking place at the Fairgrounds as well.”

Even prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the $13-million project faced delays when costs came in higher than expected, pushing out the anticipated completion from 2019 to further down the road. However, construction of the venue is now “nearly complete,” said Fairgrounds spokeswoman Jennifer Hellman, although no opening date has been confirmed.

“It’s been a lengthy journey, as we all know. It’s been nearly three years … since we started construction,” Moore said. “We really look forward to debuting it.”

According to Moore, the Fairgrounds will receive a per-show baseline flat fee from Belly Up, set at a minimum of $7,500 per show. The venue is expected to book around 60 shows per year, with four opportunities for usage by the 22nd DAA themselves.

One advantage of having a local business with a nearby existing venue manage the new space, Moore noted, is that it eliminates potential competition when it comes to bookings.

“They have interest in both [venues] being successful, so it’s minimizing, in essence, the competition of the two locations. We anticipate that there will be shows at the Belly Up Tavern the same night we are having shows here at the Fairgrounds. It’s just a difference in capacity,” she said.

The contract lasts through April 2023, with the option for renewals on a three-year period at the discretion of the 22nd DAA.

Since opening in 1974, The Belly Up on South Cedros Avenue has become an iconic regional staple for music lovers, with a 600-person capacity and a legacy of acclaimed performers including The Killers, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and even the Rolling Stones.

The company also partners with the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce each year for the annual Fiesta del Sol event at Fletcher Cove Park, drawing approximately 50,000 people over two days.

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