SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The Del Mar City Council Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution of intent to purchase the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds for $120 million.
The 340-acre parcel west of Interstate 5 and Via de la Valle is one of several properties the California government wants to unload to help balance its chronic budget deficit.
Coupled with legislation to be introduced by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, to clear the way for the sale, the decision is a major step forward in an effort that has been under way for most of this year.
"This is an opportunity to return control of this prominent facility to local officials," county Supervisor Pam Slate-Price told reporters after the vote.
The mayor of Del Mar, Richard Earnest, said his city will be the lead agency in a coalition of local governments that will appoint members to a regional nonprofit board to run the fairgrounds and racetrack. However, the city will not have majority control of the board, he said.
"The city of Del Mar does not seek to operate the facility," Earnest said.
Of the total sale price, $75 million will be paid up-front -- including $30 million put up by a group of horse owners, Earnest said.
The mayor said the rest will be paid via lease revenue bonds and long-term payments to the state.
He said local control will ensure continued public access to the facility, which will host as many events as currently booked, if not more.
Mike Pegram, a prominent horse owner, said he and two other owners will not only help pay for the sale, but will pitch in for much-needed capital improvements.
"We'll be able to control our own destiny," Pegram said. "Del Mar will be known as the horseman's racetrack -- that is our goal."
With handles dropping because of the poor economy, the sale of the track should help stabilize the Southern California racing circuit, he said.
He said he hopes to get more horse owners involved in his group.
The new ownership, with the assistance of the California Horse Racing Board, will seek to bring the prestigious Breeders Cup to Del Mar, according to Pegram.
The proposed sale has also been endorsed by key environmental organizations since it will help protect the San Dieguito River Valley, which runs through the property.
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