Dixon Releases Track's Environmental Draft

Five years after Frank Stronach first pitched his dream of Dixon Downs, Magna Entertainment's model racing and entertainment complex in Northern California reached a significant milestone Sept. 23 with the release of the draft environmental impact report.

Created by a team of more than a dozen of California's top environmental consultants, the 1,800-page report weighs more than 10 pounds. In addition, six separate reports and several appendices added more reams of paper devoted to one of the most studied projects in the greater Sacramento area in recent memory.

According to the draft EIR, Dixon Downs would cause an increase in traffic for major racing days and big concerts and more noise than its current use as farmland. But most problems could be mitigated, the report said. Magna intends to build the infrastructure to the site, which is already served by two freeway interchanges.

The financial report forecasts an immediate net return of $720,000 to the city just from racetrack handle. More monies would come from assorted tax revenue. Another $2.3 million would come from sales tax and other revenue from Phase II. The city could expect to generate more than $3.1 million in annual net revenue, the report said. Solano County and local school districts would also receive significant income.

Critics complain that Magna had too much influence on the study by virtue of picking up the tab. The report was done independently of the company and includes input from five well-attended public workshops held this year.

A small local citizens group has bashed Dixon Downs as Las Vegas-style gambling in disguise and collected about 1,700 form letters protesting the development.

Lorne Kumer, Magna's vice president of real estate, has steadfastly denied that slot machines, which are not allowed at California tracks, are an objective in the development of Dixon Downs.

"In this entire document, there's nothing about Dixon Downs needing slots," Kumer said of the study. "This is not about slots. The project stands on its own. We don't want to go through this entire process again."

The report will be open for public review through Nov. 30. The City of Dixon's planning commission is expected to conduct hearings early next year with the proposal before the city council in spring.

"In recent weeks, a number of questions have been raised about Dixon Downs by the community and this document is what we've all been waiting for," Kumer said. "Finally, meaningful answers to the questions."

If approved, the racetrack phase of Dixon Downs could be up and running within 18 months, according to Magna officials. Eventually, Dixon Downs could replace San Mateo's Bay Meadows, which is targeted for redevelopment, on the Northern California schedule.

Located 19 miles west of Sacramento on the Interstate 80 corridor, Dixon Downs features a combination of Magna's redesigned Gulfstream Park and its Palm Meadows training facility in Florida. Dixon's 1 1/8-mile all-weather main track would encircle a double-wide 1-mile turf course in a park-like setting. Forty barns would house 1,440 horses. The Finish Line Pavilion would accommodate 6,800 fans as well as double as a concert house with a theater in the round.

A second phase creating a gateway into the track, includes 1.2 million square feet of commercial, entertainment and retail space – upscale shops and restaurants, a 240-room hotel, and 20-screen movie complex.

Magna officials foresee Dixon Downs as a potential Breeders' Cup host and plan to showcase the track worldwide.

Dixon Downs would be about 45 minutes from Golden Gate Fields, which Magna owns. The new facility would serve as a year-round training facility and simulcast center as well as host to live racing. Dates would be at the discretion of the California Horse Racing Board, which is based in Sacramento.

The area is one of the fastest growing markets in the United States – a major reason Magna chose Dixon for this development. No major racetrack has been built in California in more than 50 years and none under the current environmental review process.

With the project's lengthy entitlement process, the total price tag for the development has gone up from $250 million to $300 million. Magna intends to pay the total cost of development and will not request public funds.

"We're already close to spending more on the entitlement process than we spent on the land," said Kumer.

A year after Stronach declared Dixon as the perfect spot for a new track, Magna spent $6.3 million in 2001 on 260 acres of freeway-side property. So far, the entitlement process has cost about $5 million, including $1.5 million for this report.

Magna reimbursed the City of Dixon for its costs of preparing the in-depth study, the culmination of more than two years of work. The company filed its formal application for development on March 3, 2003.

A copy of the draft EIR is available for viewing online at www.thecityofdixon.com or www.ci.dixon.ca.us.

Interested parties may direct comments to Dixon economic development director Marshall Drack at (707) 678-7000.