Del Mar Confirms Fairground, Track Purchase

Preliminary agreement, legislation would allow city to buy 400 acres from state.

The City of Del Mar confirmed Oct. 7 that is has struck a preliminary agreement with the state to purchase the 400-acre Del Mar Fairgrounds and racetrack and plans to keep the site in the public domain.

“We are looking forward to continuing to work with those interested in this sale to reach the Legislature’s and the Governor’s support,” said Richard Earnest, mayor of Del Mar, in a statement released by the city. “The fairgrounds and horse racing are longstanding traditions in our county. Our purchase of the grounds will enable us to protect those traditions, as well as to preserve the jobs they support.”

By keeping the state-owned site in the public trust, Del Mar would also be able to continue its strategic environmental support of a sensitive area that includes a neighboring lagoon and the San Dieguito River.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the fairgrounds and track were to be sold for $120 million, although the exact final figure is still to negotiated between the city and state.

State legislation introduced late on Oct. 6 would authorize the sale to Del Mar. A spokesperson for state Democratic Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego said action on the bill, part of a broader state budget agreement that was to be heard Oct. 7, was instead held on the Senate floor and will be considered at a later date. The Senate has until Nov. 30 to take up the measure, the spokesperson said.

The fairgrounds and racetrack, which are located primarily in the City of Del Mar, make up 20% of the city’s geographic area. Although Del Mar is the lead agency in the purchase agreement, it will likely not be involved in the operation of the fairgrounds.

The pending legislation would create a city-appointed non-profit corporation to oversee operations and maintenance. Regional representation would be comprised of non-elected professionals with related operational experience, according to the city. The panel would include five representatives of the city of Del Mar, plus one each from the cities of Solana Beach and San Diego and San Diego County.

Currently a board of governor appointees oversees operations and maintenance of the 22nd District Agricultural Association.

The land purchase is supported by Kehoe, San Diego County supervisor Pam Slater-Price, Mayor Jerry Sanders of San Diego, and Mayor Morris Vance of Vista, according to the city, which said the deal would not require taxpayer support. The pending legislation would allow partial financing of the deal through $45 million in proceeds from revenue bonds and $30 million from leasing the track and satellite wagering facilities. A method for paying off the remaining portion would be negotiated with the state.

“The activities we know and love at the fairgrounds will undoubtedly continue,”  Kehoe told the Union-Tribune. “For all intents and purposes it will look and feel the same.”

She said she has been involved in talks that have gone on quietly for months.

The reported purchase price was far below the estimates Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger received for the property last year when he announced a strategy of selling off public parcels to help the state with its revenue problems. At the time, the property was reportedly valued from $400 million to $700 million.

It is expected that the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club would continue to operate the popular summer race meet. It is unclear what effect the sale would have on Del Mar's plans to possibly host a fall meet in conjunction with the Oak Tree Racing Association beginning in 2012.