Be cautious in pushing changes at Del Mar Fairgrounds

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Some 324 acres of prime state-owned land in Del Mar — the 212-acre Del Mar Fairgrounds and the 48-acre Surf & Turf Recreational Facilities site that are just west of Interstate 5 and the 64-acre Del Mar Horsepark equestrian center that is 1 mile east of the 5 — could be in for major changes.

The sites are such ideal locations for development that perhaps it was inevitable that the 22nd District Agricultural Association — which manages the properties for the state — would try to make them more of an economic engine in the aftermath of a huge revenue plunge in 2020 as the Pandemic buffeted the annual San Diego County Fair and the famous racetrack. This month, the association announced plans to hire London Moeder Advisors, a real-estate consultant, to evaluate and make recommendations on the potential for building residential units, retail shops, office space and visitor accommodations on the sites.

But the association board shouldn’t count on broad public buy-in. While the county fair seems likely to remain a priority, the track, tennis club, driving range, RV park and equestrian facilities on the other parcels have loyal followings, and anything that affects them is likely to spur a backlash.

Board members should learn a lesson from their counterparts at the Port of San Diego. Their plan for a massive overhaul of Downtown’s Central Embarcadero waterfront, including Seaport Village, was far more appealing to powerful city interests than the public — even before the October bombshell that developers hoped for a public subsidy of up to $550 million for their $3.6 billion project . Incredibly, this prospect went unmentioned for six years.

The association should spring no such surprises. And it must grasp that most San Diegans value beloved recreation options far more than the state’s ability to make money off the Del Mar parcels.

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