Bookers battling over Del Mar’s Race Place contract


Two big names in local entertainment are battling over the right to book the acts at a new, year-round concert venue planned for the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

KAABOOWorks Services, LLC, has filed a formal protest against a decision by fairgrounds officials to award the booking contract to Belly Up Entertainment, best known for its live entertainment nightclub in Solana Beach.

The agency that gets the contract will be responsible for scheduling up to 60 performances a year at the concert venue being added as part of a renovation of the fairgrounds’ Surfside Race Place off-track betting facility.

KAABOO brings some of the biggest names in music to its ritzy three-day fall music festival at Del Mar, an event that includes extras such as gourmet food and drinks, massages, a swimming pool and surfing lessons. Last year, the third annual event had a peak crowd of 45,000 people.

The Belly Up has been one of San Diego County’s premier live music venues since it opened in 1974. The club has a maximum capacity of 600 people, but also gets some of the best known acts in the country. The Rolling Stones performed at a private party there in 2015.

Officials at the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the fairgrounds, state in their Jan. 10 response letter to the protest that the Belly Up edged out KAABOO by a score of 87.24 to 82.93 in a “fair, consistent, objective, unbiased and impartial” evaluation of the companies’ bids for the contract.

Not so, says KAABOO.

“There was an error in the bid process sufficiently material to justify invalidation of the award,” states the 18-page protest letter submitted Dec. 27 by Robert Walker for KAABOO,

Fairgrounds officials unfairly worked with the Belly Up in advance of the bidding process to assure that the Belly Up would get the contract, Walker states.

Belly Up representative Chris Goldsmith has asked the fairgrounds to dismiss the protest, also saying the process was fair.

“I don’t agree with any of the points they raised,” Goldsmith said Thursday, Jan. 25, adding that the protest letter is “slanted and incorrect.”

The fairgrounds’ contracts committee is reviewing the situation at the board’s Feb. 13 meeting, and could announce a decision then, fairgrounds public information officer Annie Pierce said.

If KAABOO continues to protest the decision, the next step probably would be for the fairgrounds general manager, Tim Fennell, to appoint a hearing officer to consider the issue.

One other company, Music Box of San Diego, submitted a proposal that did not meet the minimum requirements and was not selected.

The potential profit from the contract is unclear, but fairgrounds officials have said the “house theater net” would be about $1 million. The booking contractor would get a small percentage of that.

“It’s not that much money,” Goldsmith said. “It’s just a natural fit for us.”

Construction of the new concert venue has been delayed several times, and is now scheduled to begin in May. The $13 million renovation would add a 1,869-seat indoor concert arena at the off-track betting complex.

Fairgrounds officials advertised in October for bids from agencies qualified to book those concerts.

The off-track betting complex was built in the 1990s to serve as many as 5,000 patrons per day, but tribal casinos and online gaming have taken much of its business in recent years.

--Phil Diehl is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune