Saratoga Race Course

Saratoga Race Course

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Oversight Board Moves on Saratoga Projects

NYRA has proposed almost $100 million in improvements over a 10-year period.

A major construction and rehabilitation effort at the historic Saratoga Race Course took another baby step toward what New York Racing Association officials hope will be eventual final state approval for initial work to begin in the next year or so.

The New York Franchise Oversight Board, which monitors NYRA finances, on Sept. 16 approved what's called the final scoping outline for the draft generic environmental impact statement, a document that goes over how the proposed work at the track will consider everything from motor vehicle traffic flow to ensuring local streams and other bodies of water are not affected by the construction projects.

NYRA has proposed almost $100 million in projects to take place over a 10-year period at the 330-acre race course, including a new At the Rail building with a clubhouse and judges stand, rehabilitation of existing backstretch dorms and addition of 280 new beds, expanded picnic areas, viewing areas, a new jockey house; and 280 new stalls.

The Franchise Oversight Board is the taking the lead in the environmental review process, a lengthy set of procedures that will involve a host of other state and local government agencies. Moreover, it is not yet certain where NYRA will get all the money it has envisioned on its Saratoga construction wish-list.

Board member Steve Newman asked if the projects, when completed, will lead either to an extended summer meet or two separate racing seasons at Saratoga. Robert Williams, the board's chairman who is also acting executive director of the New York Gaming Commission, said such a result is not envisioned in the environmental review being considered by the Franchise Oversight Board.

In fact, the original draft environmental review document for the project made public earlier this year specifically states that the work at the track is "not expected to lengthen the racing season" at Saratoga.

With NYRA now under control of the state government for a three-year restructuring period, the Sept. 16 Franchise Oversight Board meeting did not produce any of the at-times confrontational scenes that played out in past years between the panel and NYRA officials.

The panel also approved a request by Genting New York, operator of the Aqueduct Racetrack video lottery terminal casino, to refinance existing loans with 2.5% rates to new ones with 1.5% rates. The loans include a $250 million term loan and a $100 million revolving line of credit.

The oversight board also approved transferring two narrow strips of parking lot land at Belmont Park from the board's jurisdiction to the state Department of Transportation, which needed the land as part of recent work on an adjacent highway.

Top NYRA officials also replayed a presentation for the oversight board that they gave to the NYRA board of director in August reporting on the corporation's second-quarter financial results, which included an operating loss of $1.7 million. In the first half of its fiscal year, NYRA's operating loss totaled $10.3 million–about double that from the same period a year earlier.

Overall pari-mutuel handle was up, but attendance was down 12% while NYRA had three more racing dates during the first half of 2013 compared with 2012.