From the

In its bid to gain local control of the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds and racetrack, the city of Del Mar is betting big on a trifecta of Arizona businessmen and horse owners —- Michael Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

If they can line up their political ducks in coming months, the three close friends are likely to invite other horse owners to join their bid to back the city of Del Mar’s leveraged buyout of the storied Del Mar Fairgrounds and racetrack along San Diego’s golden coastline.

The trio’s capital contribution to a deal would come from the fortunes they built over decades, the men said in recent interviews. Pegram reaped huge riches as a franchisee of McDonald’s, the world’s No. 1 fast-food chain, while Weitman and Watson earned theirs selling cars —- lots of them.

They are more than kicking the tires in Del Mar. They have indicated plans to spend at least $50 million to help the city of Del Mar purchase the Fairgrounds and racetrack from the state’s 22nd District Agricultural Association.

Pegram and his two partners have strong ties to Del Mar and may invite other deep-pocketed horse owners to invest in the deal if Sacramento lawmakers agree that the San Diego coastal property should be sold for $120 million. A legislative battle to close a growing state budget deficit could prompt the sale of state-owned real estate —– such as the Del Mar property —- as lawmakers grow desperate to raise cash. A special session of the Legislature is planned to start Dec. 6.

If the Legislature approves the sale of the Fairgrounds and racetrack, the horse owner group has committed to help Del Mar on a complicated purchase arrangement that involves the city borrowing money from the state, the city issuing revenue bonds and the horse owners kicking in about $50 million. Del Mar has scheduled a special council meeting Wednesday to discuss details of the purchase, including a partnership defining ways Solana Beach could be possibly compensated for traffic and other problems that spill into its city from the huge venue.

More investors could emerge, but Pegram, Watson and Weitman envision themselves as saviors of a dying horse racing industry in California, and would make Del Mar the linchpin of a newly restructured industry in coming years.

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Jim the Realtor
Jim is a long-time local realtor who comments daily here on his blog, which began in September, 2005. Stick around!

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