The 22nd District Agricultural Association, the entity that manages and operates the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Via de la Valle on behalf of the state of California, is rising above some of the toughest challenges it has faced in modern times.
The 22nd DAA, guided by a nine-member board appointed by the governor, suffered through steep drops in revenue in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19-related issues, which led to layoffs of 85% of its workforce.
Now the group, which also oversees the annual horse racing season at the fairgrounds and the popular San Diego County Fair, which drew nearly 1 million attendees this year, is getting back on track.
Rising Revenue Stream
It has seen a year-over-year growth in revenue over the last two years of nearly 95% in 2021 and 61% in 2022, and now has 72 employees, up from a low of 60. Once nearly 160-worker strong, DAA CEO Carlene Moore said the group is eyeing 100 employees in the future.
“Coming through the pandemic, I don’t know if anything else right now really is as challenging,” said Moore, appointed Interim CEO in August 2020 and named CEO in March 2021.
The pandemic caused closure of the fair in 2020, although the 22nd DAA offered a scaled-down version in 2021 under the moniker “Homegrown Fun!” That event brought in about $3.9 million. Full-scale fairs typically net about $12 million in revenue. The San Diego County Fair accounts for about 65% of the 22nd DAA’s revenue.
In addition to the fair, hundreds of other annual events that had been held at the fairgrounds were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 – from trade expos to art shows to festivals. Because of that, Moore said the 22nd DAA missed out on rental fees, parking, food and beverages and other ancillary services.
In 2022, the 22nd DAA reported that the fairgrounds secured $79 million in revenues — up from $49 million in 2021 and only $25 million in 2020 – and is closing in on pre-pandemic numbers. In 2019, the DAA reported $81 million in revenue.
New Venue, New Rental Income
The financial picture is shaping up with the 22nd DAA stepping out a little from its comfort zone.
In 2022, the group finished its two-year $17 million project, a 1,900-seat live music venue called The Sound. Operated by Solana Beach entity Belly Up Entertainment, The Sound is located at what was once the fairgrounds’ off-track betting site. It opened its concert season earlier this year to rave reviews with Ziggy Marley.
Also in 2022, the 22nd DAA hired New York-based Horse Shows In The Sun (HITS), to take over its offsite 65-acre Del Mar Horsepark, which closed at the end of 2020, in part because of lost income from cancelled events, but also because of water quality issues on site that needed to be rectified.
The Horsepark, two miles east of the fairgrounds, hosts horse shows and stages events like equestrian competitions and polo games, with stables for more than 70 horses.
HITS Del Mar Leasing, LLC now pays rent to the 22nd DAA of $10,000 per month through December, which rises to $20,000 per month beginning in January, plus an amount equal to 18% of the gross revenue at Horsepark. HITS also paid for the environmental upgrades at Horsepark that will take care of stormwater runoff.
The fairgrounds recently finished its own $15 million project that converted the racetrack infield water features to a holding pond and a constructed wetlands treatment area with technology that removes residual pollutants from stormwater before entering waterways.
Eyeing the future, Moore said a feasibility study by consultants is underway that is looking at, among other things, potentially redeveloping parts of the Del Mar Fairgrounds property.
“The biggest thing that we have going on right now is we are building up through a strategic planning process what we believe will ultimately grow into and result in a new master site plan for the facility,” Moore said. “We have a facilities condition assessment underway that tells us what our current facilities look like so that we can be planning appropriately for the need to invest capital into this.”
Moore, who has had a 30-year career in the ag industry, said she will never lose sight of the fact that she and the board are watching out for the public’s best interest for the fairgrounds, cognizant of what traditional events like the Fair are for people.
“At the end of the day not every decision will be a financial decision,” she said. “It’s about how the community engages and interacts with this incredible asset that we’re stewards of on their behalf.”
22nd District Agricultural Association
CEO: Carlene Moore
HEADQUARTERS: Del Mar
BUDGET: $60 million
CONTACT: 858-755-1161 or firstname.lastname@example.org
SOCIAL IMPACT: The the 22nd DAA connects the community, brings people and have invested millions of dollars to keep its sites are environmentally aware with safe water usage and proper infrastructure.
NOTABLE: The 2023 San Diego County Fair drew just over 997,000 attendees over 22 days in 2023, up from 973,508 over a 21-day period in 2022. But both attendance numbers are down from 1.5 million fair attendees in 2019, although that was for a 27-day run.