There are sites. There are sounds. There are smells and tastes. None of them will be enjoyed this summer at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
The coronavirus pandemic took care of that. It may take care of the fairgrounds forever.
Tim Fennell would love to experience the joy brought by the San Diego County Fair and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Unfortunately, the State of California has outlawed large gatherings. The Fair alone attracts about 1.5 million people every summer.
“We rely on mass gathering events. That’s 95% of our revenue,” said Fennell, the Chief Executive Officer for the Fairgrounds.
This week, the 22nd Agricultural District, which manages the property, issued a plea to San Diegans to write their state leaders and ask them to save the fairgrounds.
“What we’ve done is we looked at the worst-case scenario and in order to get us through the end of the year, worst-case scenario, is about $20 million,” explained Fennell.
Fennell said most people do not realize the Fairgrounds are self-funded. It gets very little assistance from the state. The fair, races, and other events in the spacious halls keep the Fairgrounds running.
In the meantime, Fennell said they’re trying to be creative with revenue sources. The parking lots have been leased to car rental companies. Roughly 4,000 cars are parked in the lots. They also are trying to offer a drive-thru food fair. Plans to expand to a larger event featuring the fair foods are still working their way through the permitting process.
Despite the hard times, Fennell said he doesn’t expect the Fairgrounds to close forever.
“I’d say those are long odds. I think the people of San Diego wouldn’t let that happen,” he said. “I’m not one of those guys that throws the towel in. I’m optimistic.”
The Fairgrounds staff created a website to encourage San Diegans to write their local leaders for assistance.
Ferrell said the Fairgrounds also serves as an evacuation grounds for families and livestock during natural disasters like wildfires.
“This fairground belongs to the people of San Diego,” he concluded. “This is their Fairground.”