Magna Entertainment Corp. chairman Frank Stronach says he likes to make his patrons feel at home when they are at the racetrack. In California, he may be going a step farther.
Magna, owner of Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, is teaming with ambitious Los Angeles real estate developer Caruso Affiliated Holdings on a plan to create a residential and retail complex to be built behind the grandstands of both tracks at a cost of up to $400 million apiece.
Partial plans were unveiled at a press conference May 20 as part of $1 billion in new retail developments being undertaken by the developer. CEO Rick J. Caruso said the project calls for potential development of up to 1 million square feet of retail, entertainment and housing on 85 acres at Santa Anita in Arcadia. Up to 800,000 square feet of a similar mix would be constructed on 45 acres at Golden Gate Fields, overlooking the east San Francisco Bay. The Santa Anita scenario could also include a hotel.
Caruso said he envisioned a movie theater and "a few hundred" condominiums or apartments sitting atop high-end retail stores in an open environment that would complement the tracks by evoking the golden age of racing.
"This is a major expansion of our vision and reach," Caruso said. "And we believe that, with our ability to expand the loyal customer base we currently enjoy plus our uncompromising approach to design, service and quality, we will once again raise the bar in destination gathering places as well as urban living."
Designs are incomplete and no construction permits have been granted. Caruso said he hopes to be ready to proceed with both racetrack projects within a year.
"We selected Caruso Affiliated to collaborate with us to reinvent the horse racetrack experience because of its stellar record of creating extremely popular destinations where people return again and again," Stronach said.
Stronach, who said he was impressed with Caruso's development known as The Grove in Los Angeles' Fairfax District, noted that both tracks are within major metropolitan areas that include strong demographics.
"With a Caruso project on our grounds, we are going to introduce the beauty and excitement of horseracing to an entirely new audience," he said.
Stronach, who bought Santa Anita in 1998, announced similar building plans for the landmark track in 1999, but never proceeded.
A conceptual plan for a 700,000-square-foot development for Golden Gate Fields, including commercial development and an event center, has been on file with the cities of both Albany and Berkeley for the past two years. Any development proposal would face a stiff fight from environmentalists trying to protect a large wetlands area bordering the track, which sits on a spur of the east San Francisco Bay and provides one of the last unobstructed views of both the Golden Gate and Bay bridges.