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If all goes as planned, Surfside Race Place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds will open as an entertainment venue, hosting about seven or eight concerts a month, by September 2018. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Surfside plans amping up

DEL MAR — Plans to turn Surfside Race Place at the Del Mar Fairgrounds into a 1,900-seat concert and entertainment venue are humming along, with the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors, at the Feb. 14 meeting, announcing the selection of an architect has been narrowed to three firms.

Final electronic cost proposals were due that day to the California Fairs Services Authority (CFSA) in Sacramento.

“We’re off and running,” Director Stephen Shewmaker said, adding that if all goes as planned the project should be complete by September 2018.

Last month the 22nd DAA, which governs the state-owned facility, approved a not-to-exceed $250,000 budget for preliminary work, agreed to form partnering relationships with concert booking and promotion experts and planned to meet with the California Coastal Commission to determine if an amendment to the existing permits are needed.

On Jan. 24 fairgrounds staff reached out to the CCC for project compliance. Gary Reist, deputy general manager, said there were some questions about restaurant use since the original permit only allows food outlets.

Dustin Fuller, the senior environmental planner, said the major concerns, however, were about traffic and parking. He said a consultant was asked to provide preliminary numbers to the commission.

He also noted the venue would not generate new trips, but replace those already allowed under the existing permitted use.

The agency, however, has yet to decide one way or another if amendments will be needed, he added.

Earlier this month an interview panel that included representatives from the fairgrounds, the CFSA and Belly Up Tavern, as well as the architect who designed Surfside, interviewed applicants who responded to a request for qualifications.

The top three firms — Bastien and Associates, Delawie and RNT Architects — toured the facility on Feb. 10.

Their proposals will include a conceptual design, complete construction plans and specifications, detailed billing practices and a proposed schedule.

“The planning engines have started,” Reist said. “It’s exciting. There’s some challenges with the budget and challenges with the schedule but we’re up for it. It should be a really terrific and exciting project.”

Shewmaker said the loan application process to fund the $11 million project has also started with the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, also known as IBank.

Surfside Race Place 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 concluded that turning Surfside 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.

Satellite wagering will continue at the facility.

The current estimated budget is just under $12 million, which includes a 7.5 percent, $712,000 contingency. Watson recommended approving a slightly higher amount.

If all goes as planned the facility could be complete in May 2018, in time for next year’s fair.

“What we’ve seen so far is impressive,” Penniman said.