Plans for Racetrack Near Austin Progress

by Raymond Whelan

Pending final approval from the Texas Racing Commission, the Austin Jockey Club is almost ready to build a new racetrack in Pflugerville, a fast-growing suburb north of Austin. The commission could review the plan at its Nov. 22 meeting.

The Pflugerville City Council voted unanimously in late October to let the group proceed with plans to construct the facility. Blueprints call for a one-mile track and 240 stalls for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses on a 228-acre tract scheduled for annexation and situated near Travis County Northeast Metropolitan Park.

During discussion before the vote, Austin Racing Partners vice president Bryan Brown indicated the club probably would agree to pay part of the cost to widen a two-lane street that runs to the site of the proposed track.

"We've been after this piece of property for a long time," Brown said. "We think it is one of the better locations, and if that means we have to share a little bit on road work, then we have to share."

Brown estimated the $15-million track would create nearly 3,000 jobs and generate thousands of dollars in revenue each year for city, county, and state agencies.

Brown said the new plant would operate much like Retama Park, which during the past decade has promoted economic growth in the San Antonio area and has received support from local businesses, churches, civic groups, government officials, and law enforcement personnel.

"We're very proud of the role Retama has played from an economic standpoint, and more importantly, as a neighbor and helpful member of the community," said Brown, who is also chief executive officer at Retama.

However, some Pflugerville residents voiced objections to the development of the track and mentioned concerns over crime, compulsive gambling, crowd noise, traffic, property values, the possible legalization of video lottery terminals, and other issues. Some Pflugerville residents said the track would help the council pay for education, emergency services, and road improvements.

"Taxes are heavy in this community," resident Elmer Hernandez said. "We don't have enough retail business to support us. (The track) is an opportunity to grow our city. If we correctly manage it, we can add to our tax base."

Pflugerville mayor Catherine Callen said she had received 268 petition signatures in favor of the track and 145 signatures against it.

"There is a very vocal group that is opposed to the building of this racetrack, but they may not be the majority," Callen said.

Mayor pro-tem Pat McCord said he would vote for the track because it was bound to attract more businesses. "Here in Pflugerville, we just don't have a lot of retail people beating down our door to relocate here," he said. "If we don't strike soon and land our retail development, we could become an island."

Nearly four years ago, the Austin Jockey Club attempted to build a track in southeast Austin. The Austin Neighborhoods Council cited zoning conflicts and rejected the bid.