Fairplex Expansion Project Aired for CHRB

(from CHRB report)
Fairplex Park gave an extensive presentation of a proposed $100 million project to expand and greatly enhance the racetrack facility located on the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds during the California Horse Racing Board's meeting June 22.

The Fairplex plan essentially would provide a new facility in every important respect with new barns, dining, and viewing areas.

The report, delivered by Cliff Goodrich, the former president of Santa Anita and Arlington Park, who now serves as a consultant for Fairplex Park, came during the CHRB's first public meeting on strategic planning for the future of racing in the state. The agency, meeting at the University of California at Davis, began the process of developing alternatives in case one or more of the privately owned racetracks shut down racing operations and the properties are developed for non-racing use.

"There is no secret that two of our racetracks have been purchased and may be converted to alternative non-racing uses," said Chairman Richard B. Shapiro. "Given the possibility that two or possibly even more tracks could close sometime in the future, it is prudent for this industry to look at all the options – to create and study possible alternatives to ensure prosperity for California horse racing."

The improvements at Fairplex would include expanding the main oval to one mile and installing a synthetic surface. They would create a new, seven-furlong turf course inside of the main track. The grandstand would be extended by 40 feet to the outside (away from the racing ovals) to provide dining and private party areas. Much of the existing grandstand area would be converted to a dining terrace, and some luxury suites would be added.

Goodrich said in order to justify this kind of investment, Fairplex would require 20 weeks of racing (17 more weeks than its current allotment), or a minimum of 12 weeks of racing supplemented by revenue equating to eight weeks of racing. The sources of the alternative revenue would need to be negotiated.

He joined with others in praising Hollywood Park's announcement June 21 that it will invest $8 million to install a synthetic surface this summer, but he still described Hollywood Park's long-range plans as "a little murky."

"Fairplex would require a one or two-year head start to do what needs to be done," Goodrich said. "For that reason, I would encourage the Board to begin issuing multi-year race date allocations – perhaps as long as a five-year calendar."

Management and potential investors in Los Alamitos Race Course have discussed similar plans to expand that property and acquire Thoroughbred racing dates were Hollywood Park to close.

Drew Couto, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, indicated that while most of the focus has been on the value and cost of operating racetrack properties, no one should overlook the significant financial commitments of horse owners and breeders.

"These horses require major investments and horsemen have to plan ahead," said Couto, "and the uncertainty over Hollywood Park has caused some anxiety. The announcement by Hollywood Park to invest in a new surface has allayed some of the concerns about the future. But still, we encourage the CHRB to continue this dialogue. If we don't understand what our options are, we will be in a world of hurt if the day ever comes that a racetrack does close. The CHRB is doing the right thing to focus our attention on this issue and asking the industry to get together and consider our options."

Chris Korby, executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, said the various fairs in Northern California have engaged in "serious discussions" about some of these issues, and some would consider expanding their racing schedules if Bay Meadows were to close.

"As publicly owned entities, the fairs could play a large role if any of the privately owned racetracks gets closed down and developed," said Korby.

Ron Charles, president of Golden Gate Fields, said regardless of what happens at Bay Meadows, "we need a new plan for Northern California because what we have now is not working. The premier racing in Northern California stops in the middle of June. Does that make sense? We are going to present a plan in the next month or two to address this problem."