NYRA Wants to Sell 80 Acres Near Aqueduct

A secretive group trying to obtain the New York Racing Association franchise is raising concerns about NYRA's attempt to sell 80 acres of land near Aqueduct racetrack--land the group says may not be owned by NYRA.

NYRA quietly took out a legal notice in the New York Times last week trying to obtain a broker to quickly sell the property.

"It is remarkable that NYRA would, under current circumstances, publicly announce its intentions to liquidate assets, the ownership of which is questionable, and to do so in such a hurried fashion in a seeming attempt to avoid considered scrutiny," Donald Kinsella, an Albany lawyer representing a group interested in obtaining the NYRA franchise, wrote last week in a letter to state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Kinsella has refused to identify his clients.

One brewing, unresolved matter as the NYRA franchise is getting ready to be bid out by the state, is who owns the land upon which Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga sits. NYRA has long claimed it owns the properties. Various state officials over the years have claimed otherwise, and insist that if NYRA loses its franchise that the land be either turned over to the state or the new franchise holder. NYRA officials have in the past suggested that the racing entity would retain the properties even if it loses the franchise.

In the ad, according to the Kinsella letter, NYRA says it will "give priority" to brokers that are willing "to advance to NYRA immediately upon award of an agreement hereunder a portion of the value of the real property to be sold by NYRA." The ad advised interested parties to request a bid package by Sept. 19, putting the land sale on a fast track.

NYRA officials said the land sale is appropriate. Bill Nader, a NYRA vice president, said NYRA co-chairmen Peter Karches and Steven Duncker approached officials in state Comptroller Alan Hevesi's office with a request to sell the land. "We went to the proper authorities to get clearance to go through with the sale. We wouldn't be doing this without the proper sign-off," Nader said.

Nader said the land is not being actively used by NYRA. Zoned commercial and residential, the land's asking price has not yet been set. He said NYRA needs the money from the sale to help with its fledgling video lottery terminal casino, which is supposed to open sometime next year.

"It's land that provides no benefit to NYRA. We pay taxes on this land. It's a burden. And it's land that is valuable and could help us get through a difficult period as we get closer to introduction of VLTs next year," Nader said.