DEL MAR — The Del Mar Fairgrounds selected a new lessee to manage the Del Mar Horsepark this week after the original lessee chosen in January, West Palms Events, decided to withdraw its proposal due to failed negotiations with Fairgrounds leadership.
Operations at the Horsepark will now be managed by New York-based Struzzieri Ventures Inc., a national events management company which holds horse shows throughout the United States, the Friends of the Del Mar Horsepark announced Thursday.
Struzzieri, also known by the name of its event circuit Horse Shows in the Sun (HITS), was the only other bidder to respond to the Fairgrounds request for proposals, or RFP, released nearly a year ago.
Camarillo-based West Palms Events and the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the state board managing the Fairgrounds and Horsepark, had been in negotiations regarding the terms of the park lease for the past six months. On June 6, West Palms issued a statement saying the lease negotiations were unsuccessful, and it would no longer pursue plans for the Horsepark.
“With only a five-year guaranteed contract, we were not able to come to an agreement that worked for us,” said West Palms Events CEO and President Dale Harvey. “We have collaborated with the 22nd DAA for over 20 years and we wish them all the best in their efforts to reopen the Horsepark.”
The 22nd DAA released a notice of intent to award the Horsepark lease to HITS the same day. HITS plans to open the park in 2023 and operate hunter/jumper shows throughout the year, along with “events of all disciplines,” according to a June 9 press release.
President and CEO Tom Struzzieri expressed his excitement at bringing his horse show expertise back to California. After starting shows in Indio back in the 1990s, he opened the Desert International Horse Park in the Coachella Valley community of Thermal in 2007.
“The benefit of being a lifelong horseman, rather than just an investor, gives me a unique perspective in not only developing and designing facilities, but also in acting as a horseman in the coordination of events,” Struzzieri said. “These skills will be instrumental after witnessing the challenges the sport has experienced this past year. I look forward to starting the project of renovating one of the most iconic horse facilities in the country, and then producing some of California’s most outstanding events.”
The 65-acre site at the corner of El Camino Real and Via de la Valle has been closed since 2020 due to water quality concerns from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, with costs to repair the issue anticipated to be around $8 million.
As the new lessee, HITS has outlined plans to realize various upgrades to the park over the next year, including addressing the water quality concerns, improving footing in the horse rings, adjusting the park layout to better accommodate exhibitors and updating the 400 stables on site.
“HITS looks forward to returning to the West Coast for the 2023 show season and welcoming exhibitors back to the storied Del Mar Horsepark, allowing the West Coast to continue its long tradition of top equestrian competitions at the popular venue,” the company said.
Harvey of West Palms Events said the company will also share its existing work on the park stormwater project with the 22nd DAA.
Solana Beach resident Carla Echols-Hayes, co-founder of Friends of the Del Mar Horsepark, said she believes Struzzieri and his team at HITs will be a good fit for the Horsepark.
“He has developed incredible horse facilities across the United States, and national championships are being held at these places all the time. So I think we’ve got the right guy,” Echols-Hayes said. “I feel personally that we are super fortunate that he wants Del Mar, because he has turned down other offers. He really has a pick of facilities, and he knows what works in all these different locations.”
The 22nd DAA did not respond to a request for comment on this story.