Fairgrounds to receive portion of $40.3 million from state

Del Mar Fairgrounds
(San Diego Union Tribune)

After requesting emergency aid from the governor to cover revenue lost due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Del Mar Fairgrounds will receive a to-be-determined portion of $40.3 million in state funding that will be distributed among California’s many fairgrounds.

Fairgrounds across the state rely on mass gatherings for most of their revenue, all of which have been canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. On April 27, after canceling the San Diego County Fair and all other events, Del Mar Fairgrounds leaders asked Gov. Gavin Newsom for $20 million to cover salaries and other expenses.

“It certainly is a challenge but we’re all up to that challenge,” Tim Fennell, CEO of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, said during the venue’s board of directors meeting on May 19. “I’m optimistic that when we come out of this we’re going to be stronger and better.”

As of mid May, the fairgrounds has lost $54 million in lost operating revenue, representing a 62% decrease, according to a staff report. Before the COVID-19 crisis began, the budget projected $87 million in operating revenue this year. Over the last month, the fairgrounds has reduced its temporary and seasonal workforce, renegotiated bond debt and taken other measures to mitigate the financial blow.

Fennell said the fairgrounds will be used for coronavirus testing in the next week or two. Asked if there is a start date or target testing capacity, fairgrounds spokeswoman Annie Pierce said via email that the contract is still being finalized. The fairgrounds might also host drive-in movies and drive-in graduation ceremonies, Fennell added.

The fairgrounds driving range reopened on a limited basis May 4, with visitors maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks.

“We’re not being defeated by the coronavirus,” Fennell said.

He also mentioned the possibility of resuming mass gatherings at the fairgrounds in the fall.

Sounding a note of caution, board member Don Mosier said they need to carefully monitor whether COVID-19 cases begin to surge again as public health guidelines are lifted. Mosier mentioned recent news of a coronavirus outbreak in South Korea linked to a nightclub, which took place after the country’s case numbers began falling and the economy began returning to normal.

“This virus can lurk in the background and pop up again if we’re not all careful,” he said.