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Construction to convert roughly 40 percent of Surfside Race Place into a nearly 1,870-seat entertainment venue could begin April 1, 2018, with concerts starting about one year after that. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Concert venue plans humming along in Del Mar

DEL MAR — If all goes as planned, construction to convert roughly 40 percent of Surfside Race Place into a nearly 1,870-seat entertainment venue could begin April 1, 2018, with concerts starting about one year after that.

Gary Reist, deputy general manager of the Del Mar Fairgrounds where the facility is located, reported at the Dec. 12 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors meeting that plans submitted to the state architect for review came back with “a three- to four-page list of code compliance issues that are not severe.”

“They’re just little details which our architects … (are) going over and responding to,” he added.

Plans will be resubmitted to the state architect and, if they receive final approval, the project will go out to public bid between Jan. 15 and the end of February, with a contract award expected in mid-March.

“The whole thing’s going forward,” Reist said. “It’s looking very favorable.”

Surfside is an approximately 100,000-square-foot satellite wagering facility built in 1991 to accommodate 5,000 people. At one point it attracted about 2,700, but a decrease in offsite betting has resulted in an average daily attendance of about 350.

A study conducted by students from California State University San Marcos, which validated work done by fairgrounds staff, concluded that turning it into an entertainment venue would be “highly profitable,” with a return on investment in less than five years if at least 90 concerts are held annually.

Current plans are for 60 concerts a year, or about five a month.

Satellite wagering will continue at the facility. The renovated portion will include restaurant and bar areas, a beer-tasting garden, exhibits featuring the history of the San Diego County Fair, horse racing and craft beer and a flexible concert hall that can be reconfigured to accommodate a variety of events, including weddings and corporate or church meetings.

The highest-capacity use, for approximately 1,900 people, would be a festival-style concert, during which most patrons stand throughout the show.

Director Stephen Shewmaker, who has spearheaded the repurposing effort, said fully seated shows would accommodate only about 900 people. He also said there’s been a misconception that it would host exclusively evening events.

“It’s not all 100 percent going to happen at night,” he said.

The California Coastal Commission approved the project in October with a handful of conditions.

The permit will initially be valid for five years, until Oct. 11, 2022. However, the 22nd DAA, which owns and operates the state-owned fairgrounds, can apply for renewal before it expires.

During the life of the permit, the fairgrounds must annually submit data to the commission that includes the dates and types of all events and total attendance.

There is also a parking monitoring requirement for information such as the number of spaces used by performers and attendees and the location of the parking areas that are used.

Substantial noise- or light-generating outdoor activities related to inside events, including but not limited to strobe lights, pyrotechnics, searchlights and outdoor speakers or stages, are prohibited.

Solana Beach filed a lawsuit in June claiming an environmental review should be completed. In September an agreement was reached and city officials say Solana Beach no longer opposes the project.

Construction is expected take about 10 months.