The Coast News Group
This perspective sketch, revealed on Jan. 12, is the first look at a proposed 1,900-seat indoor concert venue aimed at increasing attendance at the under-utilized Surfside Race Place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Rendering courtesy of Froehlich, Kow & Gong Architects
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Fair reveals plans for concert venue

DEL MAR — The first renderings of an approximately 1,900-seat indoor concert venue aimed at increasing attendance at Surfside Race Place were unveiled at the Jan. 12 meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds where the facility is located.

“Keep in mind that these are concepts,” General Manager Tim Fennell said. “These are … our third or fourth draft. It’s still a work in progress. We still have some penciling to do.”

On the lower level of the 90,000-square-foot facility plans call for a stage, about 1,300 seats, a distillery, an exhibit room highlighting the history of San Diego’s craft beer industry, a tasting room, an outdoor area for events and bar and food areas.

The second level includes balcony seating for 550 people, a VIP area, a banquet area and a kitchen.

Fennell said he anticipates about 60 concerts a year, or about one per week, which is far fewer than the number of shows at most other similar facilities.

“Our intent is, from the concert standpoint, not to compete with the local community, but complement the local community,” Fennell said. “We have some great venues here locally. We’re talking with those folks as well. They’re very interested.”

Fennell said the facility could also be available 52 weeks a year for educational seminars, sporting events such as boxing and during the annual San Diego County Fair and horse race meets.

Surfside was built in 1991 with an approved occupancy of 5,000 people for satellite wagering. At its peak it attracted around 2,800 but daily attendance currently averages between 300 and 400 people, Fennell said.

In mid-2013 fairgrounds officials began looking for ways to turn the facility back into a revenue-producing venue.

Initial proposals included a microbrewery, luxury theaters and a family entertainment center with high-tech bowling, but the latter two were deemed inappropriate for the site.

Fairgrounds officials then considered plans to repurpose the building into a microbrewery for local companies but a request for proposals netted no responses.

Director Stephen Shewmaker said subsequent research indicated a need for an indoor music venue in North County with the capacity to hold about 2,000 people.

By comparison, the grandstand where headline acts perform during the fair seats about 9,500. Attendance at big-name shows generally averages around 7,500. Fennell noted that because the proposed venue is inside there should be fewer noise issues.

Representatives from the adjacent cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach raised some concerns in December during a monthly meeting with fairgrounds officials. Director David Watson said both cities would be fully briefed when plans are formalized.

“I see this as a great opportunity,” Fennell said. “I see this as providing jobs, stimulating the economy, providing tax revenue for the city of Del Mar.

“Again, it’s still a work in progress,” he added. “We still have a lot of discussions we need to take place. It has to come back to the board. There may be some changes.

“We’ve got to figure out, if we decide to go down this route, how it’s going to be financed and paid for,” Fennell said. “But it’s in my opinion long overdue and pretty exciting I think.”

The estimated cost is $10 million to $15 million.

Shewmaker said after running some “preliminary numbers” and talking to people in the entertainment industry the venue could be profitable with 60 shows per year at 75 percent to 85 percent capacity.

He said he expects to present some “hard numbers” to his colleagues in February.

“I think it’s going to make some sense,” Shewmaker said. “It’s something that North County really is looking for — a venue of this size. I think it’s going to be a huge success for us.”