Site for New Pennsylvania Track Still Undecided

by Dan Reynolds

Planners of a Thoroughbred racetrack near Erie are weighing two location options pending a Sept. 15 license amendment decision from the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission.

Presque Isle Downs, to be operated by MTR Gaming, is holding on to the possibility of developing the $80-million racino on former farmland in Summit Township, about 20 minutes southeast of Erie off of Interstates 79 and 90. In July, the Summit Township board of supervisors granted the company a 90-day extension of its land development plan for 100 acres of the former Sender Dairy Farm.

Presque Isle Downs has options on another 100 acres that is a mix of farmland and former small business properties. At the same time, the company has an option to buy a 213-acre parcel on the site of the former International Paper mill adjacent to Lake Erie within the city limits.

MTR Gaming owns Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort in West Virginia. The track, which has more than 3,000 video lottery terminals, is located about 90 minutes from the proposed Presque Isle Downs.

"Right now, we have not made a choice, we are still working diligently on both options pending a decision by the horse racing commission," said Greg Rubino, an Erie real estate agent who is the point man for MTR Gaming's land acquisitions.

Kristina Watson, a spokeswoman for the racing commission, said the commission wouldn't make a decision on the request by MTR Gaming to transfer the license from Summit Township to Erie until its Sept. 15 meeting. She said the commission is studying the request.

Ted Arneault, chief executive officer of MTR Gaming and president of Presque Isle Downs, has said he plans to build at the paper mill site. The site is within a short drive of Presque Isle State Park, a seven-mile peninsula that offers swimming, fishing, boating, and a number of other outdoor activities.

Marlin Coon, chairman of the board of supervisors in Summit Township, said the easy access to the site off of I-90 could still tilt the project Summit Township's way. "You could see the track from I-90," he said.

Coon said he believes Presque Isle Downs will purchase the former International Paper site, develop it for other uses, and still build a track in Summit Township. Rubino said he isn't going to comment on a preference while the license transfer is pending in front of the commission.

"We're certainly not going to second-guess them--that is strictly their department," Rubino said.