The rebuilding of Gulfstream Park is well under way and, according to Magna Entertainment Corp. officials, the facility will be ready when the next live meet begins the first week of January 2006.
Temporary facilities were used for the 2005 meet, which ran from early January through late April. The construction of a new grandstand/clubhouse picked up after the meet, and in the final four months of this year, three shifts a day may become the norm to complete the $140-million project.
There was speculation heading into the 2005 meet that Gulfstream wouldn't be ready for racing, but things progressed in an orderly fashion after a bumpy start. It's no surprise there is industry skepticism over whether the new facility will be ready for occupation when the meet begins.
"Don't be thinking guys aren't going to lose a lot of hair over this one," Dennis Mills, executive vice president of MEC, said of the ongoing redevelopment of Gulfstream.
Gulfstream is the first North American racetrack MEC has built from the ground up. When the rest of the project--retail, entertainment, restaurants, and condominiums--is completed at the Hallandale, Fla., facility, Gulfstream will become the prototype racetrack for MEC chairman Frank Stronach.
"When we make this a success, others are going to see that the modernization of the racetrack environment into a multipurpose facility is working, and hopefully others will do the same," Mills said.
The Gulfstream project currently is the focal point of the MEC design team headquartered in Aurora, Ontario, at the Magna headquarters. In one room, there is a video screen that shows the Gulfstream construction live so officials can keep track of its progress.
The walls of the room are plastered with blueprints and artist's renderings of Gulfstream. A few months back, when the Laurel Park racing surfaces were being rebuilt, the room had a Laurel theme, said Charlie Thomas, an architect in the design department. When Gulfstream is complete, the focus--and live camera--probably will shift to western Pennsylvania, where The Meadows will be fitted with a slot machine parlor.
"It's called DreamWorks Stronach," Mills said of the design rooms at the MEC headquarters.
Tom Dillon, executive vice president of development for MEC, said construction of the retail component of the complex would begin after the 2006 meet. MEC has partnered with a developer to handle that end of the project, which eventually will feature condominiums within walking distance of the racetrack.
"One of the foremost points," Dillon said, "is that some residents may be able to sit down and bet in their living rooms."
With the concrete foundations and much of the steel framework in place, crews will begin putting up walls in the Gulfstream clubhouse. Once enclosed, the interior work will begin. MEC will have about four months to wrap it up, so workers could be on site 24 hours a day.
"We imagine being like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," Mills said. "If it takes a third shift to meet our deadlines so the customer experience is ready (for opening day), we'll do it. We don't care if the executive offices aren't finished, but the customer experience needs to be ready."
An area adjacent to the clubhouse has been set aside for slot machines. Florida lawmakers still haven't adopted enabling legislation, and Mills said MEC hopes there is some movement in that regard this fall.