Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Forum Attracts More Than 100

More than 100 people attended a forum to discuss Keeneland's master renovation plan.

Keeneland and HOK Sports held an open forum the evening of Aug. 25 to discuss the association’s “master plan” initiative that was announced earlier this month. Between 100 and 150 local citizens attended the meeting that was held in the sale pavilion and about a dozen people spoke up to voice their concerns regarding the future of Keeneland.

The forum, which lasted a little longer than an hour, was led by Nick Nicholson, Keeneland’s president, and Russ Simons, a project manager for HOK. Simons was joined by Ryan Sickman and Kelly Bowman. HOK Sports is an international sports architecture firm that has about 500 employees and is in “business of public assembly and sports entertainment.”

Nicholson gave a brief overview of the history of Keeneland, which opened in 1936, noting its major renovations in 1963, 1976, 1984, 1990, and 1998.

The key point of his presentation came when he noted Keeneland has 8,500 seats and on most Saturdays draws in excess of 25,000 patrons, meaning two-thirds of the fans don’t have a place to sit. He also noted the overcrowding does not allow for things to be “up to Keeneland standards. People spend too much time in lines, it’s too hard to get in, and it’s too hard to leave,” Nicholson said.

The master plan that will be put together will allow Keeneland to “accommodate more people and they will continue to have the ‘Keeneland experience’ without changing what makes it special.”

HOK works with major sporting venues in all major sports, and counts among its clients the “new” Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards in Baltimore, and new parks being built for the Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals of Major League Baseball; National Football League stadiums for the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers; National Basketball Association teams; and other venues such as Wimbledon Stadium in England.

On the racing front, HOK was instrumental in the rebuilding of Royal Ascot in England and has been involved with Happy Valley track in Hong Kong. For racing events, they most recently worked with the New Jersey Fair and Exposition Center for last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park.

After the presentations, the floor was opened to comment and the resounding theme was to keep Keeneland “rustic,” “open,” and “rural.”

Neither Nicholson nor Simons made comments on the comments. “Where we are right now in this process is ‘discovery,’” Simons said. “We’re here to understand what Keeneland means to you. We don’t have any preconceived notions; we are here to provide a service.”

The following were some of the comments:

* “Don’t destroy what you have here. This place has a real sense of campus; I have concerns about how to handle the automobile and the parking.”

* “It’s OK to modernize the inside of the buildings, but leave the outside rustic and green. That’s where the magic is.”

* “As fans, we love horses. We like the rural lifestyle. Keep Keeneland as rural looking as possible; I don’t want it to be a ‘downtown facility.”

* “Keep the sight lines and keep the access to see the horses in the paddock. Also, 90% of the money bet today comes from simulcasting; make sure you take that into consideration and make it better for simulcasting; more data stations and replay machines. It might be good to have an upscale, ‘club’ area for simulcast patrons.”

* “Don’t build a monstrosity and ruin the Keeneland ambiance."