City Staff Urges Approval of Dixon Downs Plan

Six years after Magna Entertainment Corp. first pitched its idea, Dixon, Calif., city staff officially recommended the approval of Dixon Downs, a $250 million state-of-the-art racetrack and training center proposed for the rural town 20 miles west of Sacramento.

The recommendation was part of an extensive staff report, development agreement, and final Environmental Impact Report released Aug. 29 and submitted to the City of Dixon's planning commission for its approval. The commission will hold its first hearing on granting Dixon Downs approval Sept. 13, before forwarding it to the city council.

If approved by the council, Magna could break ground by late 2007 and Dixon Downs would be ready to host its first meet in early 2009, according to Dixon Downs spokesman Scott Rose.

Magna founder Frank Stronach first visited Dixon in 2000 while searching for a suitable location for a "dream racetrack" that would combine sport and entertainment. In 2001, MEC purchased 260 acres of farmland adjacent to Interstate 80 – the major corridor between Sacramento and the Bay Area -- on the outskirts of this community of 17,000 residents.

Located 45 minutes from Golden Gate Fields, Dixon Downs was originally envisioned as a replacement for Bay Meadows, which Magna was leasing at that time. The 60-year-old San Mateo track is slated for redevelopment in the future.

Stronach reiterated his support for Dixon Downs earlier this month. The new venue would give Magna two major racetracks in Northern California in addition to Santa Anita in the Southland.

"This would allow us to be a major player in California," Stronach said in a conference call.

Because Golden Gate Fields' San Francisco bayside property is so valuable and attractive for possible development, Magna would prefer to keep a minimum of stalls at that track and use Dixon as a major training facility with room for up to 1,440 Thoroughbreds. Sacramento's population is also growing rapidly, creating a new audience for racing.

"We still believe this would be a great track there," Stronach said. "The chances are very good now that I too think we are in the final stages there to where perhaps we might get the approval for the race track."

Magna had applied to the city for development of the property in 2003. After hundreds of hours of meetings and more than $5 million in consultant costs, the final analysis comes out in favor of the track over other possible development.

The agreement calls for a 870,000 square-foot "Finish Line Pavilion" – a combination grandstand and entertainment center – that could host concerts and other events. With a synthetic racing surface, the main track would be a 1-1/8-mile oval with a double wide one-mile inner turf course. Forming a gateway to the track would be up to one million square feet of shopping, restaurants, and a hotel/conference center.

Magna would pay for up to $50 million in pubic improvements in addition to guaranteeing the city racetrack revenue, estimated at $3 million a year. A special foundation would distribute another 1% of the track's profits to community projects.

Among the more unusual items in the development agreement is Magna's commitment to make Dixon Downs an environmentally friendly "green" business with sustainable energy conservation, clean fuel vehicles, and on-site recycling.