At the final session in a series of city-sponsored public workshops March 19, Magna Entertainment presented its updated proposal for Dixon Downs, the $250 million state-of-the-art racetrack and entertainment complex the company wants to build in Dixon, Calif., 20 miles west of Sacramento.
The project remains true to Frank Stronach's original concept: Maximize racing's exposure to the general public by giving them more reasons to come to the track. The plan includes a gateway - formed by 1.2 million square feet of commercial/retail space with shops, restaurants, a 250-room hotel and meeting halls - that leads to the multi-purpose 6,800-seat Finish Line Pavilion, a grandstand with a built-in concert hall. The racetrack portion of the project would cost an estimated $120 million.
"It's very much like what we're building at Gulfstream, only on a slightly smaller scale," said Lorne Kumer, Magna's vice president of development. "We see this as a prototype for other tracks to come."
Those facilities complement a year-round training center featuring barns for 1,400 horses in a set-up similar to MEC's Palm Meadows in Florida. A clone of Gulfstream Park's new layout, Dixon's 1 1/8-mile dirt track will loop a double wide, one-mile inner turf course. If Dixon Downs is approved, Magna plans to request 100 days of live racing plus daily simulcasting from the California Horse Racing Board.
Magna first pitched its "dream track" to the community of 16,000 residents in late 1999, MEC's first year of operation. The company bought the 260 acres alongside Interstate 80 in 2002. The city council is expected to vote on the project in late summer. At the earliest, Dixon Downs could be open in 2007.
"To their credit, they've been very patient," said former Dixon mayor Don Erickson, who now serves as MEC's local liaison. "Magna hasn't tried to take any short cuts at all. They've done everything we've asked them. And this approval process in California takes a long time."
Magna will spend an estimated $5 million for the entitlement process, or about $20,000 an acre. The property itself cost the company $24,000 an acre.
City consultants spent all of 2004 compiling a series of reports on dozens of subjects, including traffic, public safety, and fiscal impact. The results of those reports were rolled out for public comment at five workshops. Drawing from these many reports and public comment, the draft Environmental Impact Report will be out sometime in the spring.
The city reports peg the development as a winner. According to the consultants, Dixon Downs should produce a net income of more than $3 million a year for the city plus another $1.2 million each for Solano County and the local school district. The project would create more than 3,500 new jobs.
Recently, MEC met with local trade unions and agreed to hire their members with preferences for local residents. Several tradesmen spoke in support of the project at the workshop, which drew about 200 people on a rainy morning.
The impact on public safety would be minimal, say consultants. Magna has pledged to pay for infrastructure costs, build roads and help the city's longtime storm drainage problem.
City officials have visited several other racetrack towns to get an idea of what they may eventually see in Dixon. Besides Northern California's Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows, they've been to Gulfstream and Palm Meadows. Trips to Santa Anita and Lone Star Park are planned soon.
"In other cities, the issue of crime isn't even on the radar," Dixon city manager Warren Salmons said. "The Albany police chief said they get more calls from Safeway than Golden Gate Fields."