Magna Makes Moves on Michigan Downs

By Tom Schram
Magna Entertainment Corp. removed another obstacle to bringing Thoroughbred racing back to the Detroit area on Tuesday when it applied to transfer its Great Lakes Downs racing license to a Delaware corporation.

Michigan law prohibits the ownership of multiple track licenses. However, an application was filed to transfer the Great Lakes Down license to Richmond Racing, a corporation owned solely by Jack Brothers, a long-time bloodstock agent and advisor to Magna International Inc. founder and chairman Frank Stronach.

Magna plans to begin construction on Michigan Downs, a multiple-use track in Romulus, a western suburb of Detroit, this spring. A first race meeting is tentatively planned for 2005.

Michigan Racing Commissioner Robert Geake had little comment on the development.

"We've received an application to transfer the license and we're looking at it," Geake said. "We're not going to drag our feet on this."

The Detroit area has been without a thoroughbred racetrack since 1998, when Ladbroke DRC in suburban Livonia closed its doors. The following year, Great Lakes Downs, located in Muskegon in southwest Michigan, opened and became the home of Thoroughbred racing in the state.

Meanwhile, Magna officials last week offered details of the proposed $100-million Michigan Downs to city officials.

Tim Keyes, economic development director for Romulus, indicated the meeting was informative but declined to offer any specifics on the proposal.

"This was encouraging because it's the first time we've had the people at the top of the city and the company sit down to discuss specifics," Keyes told the News-Herald.

Magna, which won approval for Michigan Downs in a citywide vote in December, plans to run 160 days at Michigan Downs. Keyes said it is hoped a detailed plan for the project would be presented to the Romulus Planning Commission by this summer.

"The approach through this is that the people of the city voted to accept a racetrack and we want to help Magna build the best track they possibly can for the city," Keyes said.

Michigan Downs is slated to have a 1 1/8-mile dirt track for Thoroughbreds and seven-furlong harness track. There would also be a one-mile turf course.

If demand warrants, a 675,000-square-foot retail and entertainment complex would be built later.