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Del Mar Fairgrounds climbing out of financial hole

Posted at 4:07 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 20:21:39-04

DEL MAR, Calif. (KGTV) -- The racing season will bring tens of thousands of fans back through the gates of the Del Mar fairgrounds, but the historic venue continues to climb out of a financial hole.

The fairgrounds are owned by the state, but self-funded. In 2020, the fair was relegated to a drive-through version and no fans were able to attend the annual race meet. The fairgrounds laid off more than half of its staff and in May 2020 asked the state for $20 million in aid.

"Last year, losing the entire fair, I mean that was a big, big hit," said Joe Harper, CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. "That was all the revenue basically that comes into the fairgrounds, except for us."

Things, however, appear to be improving. Earlier this summer, the venue held a scaled-back version of the annual fair, with lots of food but only two rides. It still attracted roughly 270,000 guests. And Opening Day of the races sold out at 16,000 fans, which is smaller than pre-COVID standing-room-only crowds.

A spokeswoman for the fairgrounds said Friday that in the calendar year 2020, the venue received an additional $9.9 million in state funding. The money largely covered payroll and leave liability.

In August, the fairgrounds is expected to release details about its upcoming concert venue. It is also exploring the possibility of affordable housing on the property.