About 50 people were present Sept. 1 at a sparsely-attended community forum hosted by the New York Racing Association at the Saratoga Springs City Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., but valuable input was obtained from residents who provided their opinions on the organization’s 21 proposed capital improvement projects for Saratoga Race Course.
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The projects include improving capacity for a larger horse population at Saratoga, adapting or reconstructing backside housing for workers, reconfiguring the paddock and surrounding areas, and constructing a permanent building to replace what is now the “at the rail” pavilion.
The association presented the development strategy for potential capital improvement projects to members of the media earlier in the day and also made a separate presentation to horsemen before inviting residents of the city to the evening session. NYRA president/CEO Charles Hayward was present to answer questions along with strategic development consulter Paul Roberts of Turnberry Consulting US Inc., who introduced the proposed improvements via a detailed slideshow.
“What we’re trying to establish through these meetings is, do the plans make sense overall, strategy-wise are they sensible, are these projects good, what are the pros and cons?” Roberts said.
Residents raised questions about the condition of the barns, the merits of potentially re-opening the infield as a picnic area, the obstruction of the backside view caused by higher tote boards, the need for an improved public address system and HD televisions at the track, and requested an opportunity for families and racing fans to get up close and personal with the horses via a personal viewing stand on the Oklahoma oval.
Hayward called lighting, audio, and television improvements – including the purchase of 14 high-definition cameras for the association’s in-house television production “something we’re seriously going to look at for 2012, particularly in the grandstand” and said next year NYRA racing should be broadcast in HD at the upstate oval.
Most of the major capital improvements are not expected to be started until 2013. Funding for the capital improvement projects will come from $27.6 million annually, 4% of revenues generated through the installation of 4,500 video lottery terminal machines and 500 electronic table games at Aqueduct.
Roberts said planning had been limited to basic conceptual and research stages due to the financial environment NYRA has been operating in, calling the plans “a veneer.” The last time a substantive plan was presented for the improvement of racetrack facilities in New York was 1956.
“We need to advance this design and make a decision within in a few weeks’ time as far as which direction to go, which projects will work, and try to get to a stage within a year where I can stand here again with very specific projects and a very specific way they can be completed in Saratoga in a two- or three-year or a five- or seven-year period,” he said. “No decisions have been made; these are ideas that have been merged which we want to consult on. The three fundamental issues are to improve things for horses, improve things for people, and preserve the natural environment.”
Roberts said modifications to Saratoga would be “done in a way that is true to the spirit of what everybody else has done over time at Saratoga; leaving what is good, removing what is bad, and trying to leave something better.”
He called previous modifications to Saratoga “a delicate, careful reorganization,” where individuals in charge of redevelopments left the core of the original buildings in place, making improvements and additions.
Comments and questions regarding planned improvements may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org beginning Sept. 2.