The grandstand at Gulfstream Park was demolished Tuesday.

The grandstand at Gulfstream Park was demolished Tuesday.

Eliot J. Schechter

Roof Comes Down at Gulfstream Park

There have been a number of racing performances that have knocked the roof off Gulfstream Park during its 65-year history, but nothing like what took place June 29.

Shortly after sunrise, with a crowd of about 30 looking on, representatives from the Cleveland Wrecking Co. used torches and sheers to cut support columns of the grandstand roof of the Hallandale, Fla., racetrack. Then, at approximately 9:20 a.m. EDT, David Nojima, encaged in a backhoe, gave the structure a shove and watched as it shuddered and collapsed to the ground.

As part of a two-year, $120-million redevelopment of Gulfstream, construction crews have been working since the race meet ended April 25 and razed most of the edifice, leaving in place only the skeleton of the original structure that was built in 1939.

"It was pretty stubborn, but we had a good idea of how it would lay down," said Randy Cook, the site superintendent for Cleveland Wrecking. "Doing it this way was a lot safer than imploding it, and a lot cheaper, too."

In reference to the removal of massive piles of debris, he said: "Now, the fun part starts."

Cook and Gulfstream officials estimate that virtually the entirety of what was Gulfstream will be torn down and hauled off within 30 days, paving the way for a massive reconstruction project that will not be completed until late next year. Though plans remain flexible, the new development, dubbed "The Village at Gulfstream Park", is slated to include retail, entertainment, and residential components in addition to racing.

As a result, the 2005 meet--scheduled to begin Jan. 3--will take place almost exclusively in temporary structures. Only the jockeys' room and approximately half of the 34 backstretch barns will remain.

"Everyone will be a little inconvenienced next year, but I think they'll really like what's to come after that," Gulfstream president Scott Savin said.

Savin described operational plans for the 2005 meet that included two large tents encompassing approximately 250,000 square feet each, as well as three or four smaller tents. In all, he expects there to be capacity under cover for approximately 3,500 people, with room enough for another 12,000 in an open-air, seven-acre park.

"It will have a kind of Saratoga feel to it," Savin said. "Weather will drive the whole meet."

Savin said patrons wouldn't pay admission. "It's going to be kind of a fun, experimental thing," he said.

Over the next five months, Gulfstream officials will prepare an entirely new set of procedures for even the simplest racing protocol. For example, with the new paddock situated on the track's north side, about 800 yards from the jockeys' room, the track will need to operate a shuttle bus for riders. Additionally, scaffolding near the finish line will be erected for the stewards, placing judges, and track announcer.

Two things Savin expects will be permanently in place for 2005 are theracing surfaces. A new 1 1/8-mile dirt course is under construction, and the planting of a 160-foot-wide turf course will commence in July.