Dixon Downs may not be on the fast track, but it's making steady progress toward ground-breaking. That's the report from the front lines in Dixon, the small California town 20 miles west of Sacramento where Magna Entertainment Corp. is hard at work developing a state-of-the-art racetrack.
"Everything's going fine," said Don Erickson, Dixon Downs' local spokesman and the point person on the massive project. "It's just not very exciting. But I don't want people to interpret lack of news as lack of action. We're hard at work."
Erickson, Dixon's former mayor, is part of the team doing the grunt work needed to assure the project's ultimate approval by the Dixon City Council. Magna bought the freeway-side property, adjacent to Interstate 80, for about $6.3 million last year.
"Putting together a 260-acre project in a municipal area in California is challenging, to say the least," Erickson said. "There are so many regulations. It's critically important we approach it right."
Magna had targeted Dixon for a new racetrack and training facility in 2000. But vocal opposition from a small group of residents in the town of 15,000 prompted Magna to pull out before escrow on the property closed.
Dixon remained Magna founder Frank Stronach's first choice for a new track in California, and Magna retained its option on the site, targeted for industrial or commercial development by the city. In May, Magna completed its purchase of the farm acreage.
In October, Magna unveiled its proposal for a "Keeneland of the West," a landmark track tied into California's breeding community and the renowned equine veterinary program at nearby University of California-Davis. Dixon Downs would look like a Florentine villa set next to a 1-1/8-mile track with two inner tracks -- a one-mile turf course and 7/8-mile all-weather track. The stable area could accommodate 1,300 horses.
Because of Magna's rocky start the first time the track was proposed, the company is taking no chances with its second chance, Erickson said.
"We don't want any false starts," he said. "Tracks are long-term projects and we have to be prepared for things that could happen 10, 20, 30 years down the road from now. We're not making any errors that could be expensive in both time and money."
Those considerations include such mundane but vital specifics as where to put the sewer lines and how will traffic flow off the freeway. Magna officials hope to go before the Dixon City Council with its environmental impact report this spring.
Eventually, Dixon Downs would take the place on the Northern California racing circuit of San Mateo's Bay Meadows, another Magna track. Magna bought Bay Meadows as a business entity but not its current 80-acre site, which is slated for redevelopment.
Magna's lease on Bay Meadows' site expires Dec. 31, 2002, but the company is negotiating with the landowner for an extension. With the current downturn in the Bay Area economy, that should not be a problem, said Magna officials.
That's fine with Erickson, who estimates Dixon Downs is two to three years away from holding its first race. "It's 2002 right now and we're still in the entitlement process," he said. "We need the time."