Belly Up to manage new Del Mar concert venue at fairgrounds

A worker walks through the old off track betting center at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in January 2020.
A worker walks through the old off track betting center at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in January 2020, as crews were transforming it in to an entertainment venue.

Remodeled Surfside Race Place expected to open later this year


The Belly Up Tavern LLC, which has hosted live music shows in Solana Beach for decades, will manage a long-awaited new indoor concert venue expected to open later this year at the off-track wagering center on the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The agency that runs the fairgrounds, the 22nd District Agricultural Association, first awarded the contract to Belly Up more than four years ago, but a competitor, KAABOOWorks Services, LLC, protested the decision and the contract was rescinded in February 2018.

KAABOO’s experience included a three-day music festival that brought as many as 45,000 people to the fairgrounds each September for five years through 2019. That year, the operators announced plans to relocate to Petco Park, but the festival was cancelled in 2020 and ’21 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It could return this fall at Petco Park, home of the Padres baseball team.

Meanwhile, the fairgrounds’ new concert venue at the Surfside Race Place also suffered a pandemic setback. Work slowed on the nearly 1,900-seat indoor arena and other facilities being added as part of a $13 million renovation. The project is finally near completion and is expected to open later this year. It could host as many as 60 events annually.

Fairgrounds officials re-advertised the management contract from Feb. 25 through March 25 this year, and this time the Belly Up was the only applicant.

The Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach opened in 1974 and remains one of the top year-round live music venues in San Diego County with a maximum capacity of 600 people.

“Belly Up will pay the district a minimum guaranteed per-live entertainment event fee of $7,500 or 10 percent of the gross ticket sales, whichever is greater, plus $2.50 per ticket facility fee,” fairgrounds Chief Executive Officer Carlene Moore said in an email Thursday, April 14.

Each subsequent year, the minimum guaranteed will increase 4 percent, Moore said. The percentage of ticket sales and the per-ticket facility fee will remain the same.

Del Mar’s off-track betting center was built in the early 1990s to serve as many as 5,000 people a day. However, attendance declined as the popularity of online gaming and tribal casinos increased, and the facility has long been under-utilized.