Brunetti Rejects Minor's Hialeah Offer

Brunetti Rejects Minor's Hialeah Offer
Photo: Blood-Horse Library
Hialeah during its heyday in the 1960s.

John Brunetti has rejected technology entrepreneur Halsey Minor’s first official offer to buy Hialeah Park.
 
Neither Minor nor Brunetti would disclose Minor’s proposed price for the Hialeah, Fla., track, which last held races in 2001. But Brunetti said Oct. 1 that Minor’s offer, made Sept. 25, was “in the same range” as the $22 million he said he paid for Hialeah Park in 1977.
 
Minor saidSept. 29 that after Brunetti rejected his offer, he countered “with a much higher number than the proposal I gave him.”
 
Brunetti and Minor each said they are willing to continue talks.
 
“John had no substantiation for the number he gave me,” Minor said. “I told him that if he could come back with a legitimate rationale, I would be ready to resume discussions.”
 
Minor added: “I am 43, and I am very persistent. I will keep working to rebuild the racing infrastructure in this country. At some point, I will end up with that racetrack (Hialeah). It would be too bad if I have to buy it out of an estate because John lost out on the opportunity to be the one who allowed it to re-emerge.”
 
Brunetti, who is 77, said: “I am not going to comment on that statement. He has been trying to fashion the impression that if something does not get done, it is my fault.”
 
Minor is the founder of CNET Networks. In 2004 Fortune magazine estimated  his net worth at $286 million, from investments in CNET and other Internet and technology companies. He owns several Thoroughbreds including filly Dream Rush, who won four Graded stakes as a 3-year old in 2007.
 
Minor, who is the guest on the Oct. 2 Talkin Horses, first contacted Brunetti in July about his interest in buying Hialeah, the historic track that opened in 1925. Read that story here.
 
In 2007 Miami-Dade County’s appraised valuation was $17.1 million for the 206-acre property. It is zoned for retail and commercial uses, which are common for a racetrack. That valuation is based partly on the property’s inactive status, Brunetti said.
 
Minor said he made his offer “based on a certified real estate appraiser’s valuation that assumes the highest and best use and that all the changes he has requested in zoning have occurred.”
 
However, Brunetti said Minor’s offer was based on the lowest of several possible appraised values for that development, from an analysis Minor’s advisors prepared in early September.
 
Several times this decade, government agencies have rejected Brunetti’s requests for zoning changes that would permit residential and light industrial development at Hialeah Park.
 
Brunetti has said that he sought zoning changes because of the economic and political obstacles to resuming racing at Hialeah.
 
Minor said that his advisors who visited Hialeah Park in August estimated it would take about $90 million to refurbish the property and re-open it for racing. Previously, Minor and Brunetti each estimated that cost would be about $30 million.
 
Hialeah’s grandstand and other areas of its property suffered damages from 2005 hurricanes that have not been repaired. Brunetti or a new owner also would have to build a new barn area.
 
When asked if he felt that Brunetti has “played him along” in negotiations, Minor said:
 
“I don’t think so. John is a kind of riverboat gambler. He is not irrational. I don’t know how many years he can expect to keep paying $1.5 million a year (in taxes and maintenance), and still hope that he will be able to bring it back as a racetrack.”
 
Brunetti has said he is making those payments from cash flow from his real estate development business, which includes operations in New Jersey and Florida.
 
Brunetti emphasized that Minor approached him, and that he has not been seeking to sell Hialeah.
 
“I have given Halsey all the time that I have had available,“ Brunetti said. “I have tried to help him understand the political and economic realities (of buying and re-opening Hialeah). Maybe he wants to do something to make a big splash around the Breeders’ Cup.”
 
Even if Minor does not buy Hialeah Park, he feels that his research will help him in his goals that include buying other racetracks.
 
“I intend over time to own several tracks because that is part of my strategy for rebuilding racing in America,” he said. “My mission is to improve the infrastructure of thoroughbred racing, and re-energize its fan base.”
 
Minor said he is not in discussions to buy any tracks other than Hialeah, but added: “I am talking with people in racing who want me to move ahead.”
 
Hialeah Park opened in 1925 and was known for its landscape and architecture, as well as star-quality winter racing.
 
But during the 1990s it became difficult for Brunetti to compete with Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course.
 
Since 2002, Florida has not assigned racing dates to South Florida’s three race tracks. The lack of exclusive dates would require Hialeah to hold  a race meet in competition with Gulfstream Park, owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., and Calder, owned by Churchill Downs Inc.
 
In 2003, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering revoked Hialeah’s permit. A state law allows the Florida
DPMW to take that action if a Thoroughbred track does not hold live meets for two consecutive years.
 
Hialeah appealed that decision to a Florida administrative agency. It maintained that the lack of exclusive dates made it unlikely that it could have a profitable  meet, thus not justifying revocation of its permit.
 
After losing the appeal, Hialeah sued the Florida DPMW  in 2004. The track lost that case in a Miami-Dade County circuit court and in a state appeals court, which returned it to the Miami court. Lawyers are preparing to take new discovery on the case.
 
Some racing and political officials believe that Brunetti’s battles with regulators and other tracks have left him with little if any chance of gaining the Florida Legislature’s approval for a new racing permit for Hialeah.

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