Magna Takes Dixon Downs Plan to Residents

Taking another step in a lengthy approval process, Magna Entertainment publicly rolled out its detailed plans for Dixon Downs, a $250 million "dream track" prototype for the company's future development.

At an almost three-hour meeting Oct. 9 with more than 200 local residents, MEC chief executive officer Jim McAlpine discussed his company's vision for 260 acres in Dixon, (Calif.), located 20 miles west of Sacramento. Magna has considered construction of a new racetrack and year-round training facility in Dixon since 2000. After initially walking away from the idea, it bought the property in 2001. Already served by two freeway exits, the site sits on Interstate-80, the main corridor linking San Francisco with the rapidly growing Sacramento region.

"Dixon is the ideal location due to its highway access,'' McAlpine said. "The visibility of the track is very important to us. One of our goals is to be highly visible."

Santa Anita general manager Chris McCarron, Magna vice president of development Tom Austin and the company's vice president of real estate Lorne E. Kumer were on hand to answer questions and talk about racing.

Unlike Magna's other 15 racetracks, this project would be the first built from scratch in an empty green field. Dixon, population 16,313, had slated the farmland for industrial development and warehouses before Magna came forward with its Dixon Downs concept.

Among Magna's priorities, "this rates fairly high," McAlpine said. "We have a number of key projects, but this is the first 'green-field' racetrack that's this far along."

Magna submitted its formal application for development with the City of Dixon in March. Since then, Dixon has hired a stable of top consultants, many of them considered among the best in the state. Magna will pick up the expected $2 million tab for their work.

"We have a lot of very talented people working with us," Dixon city manager Warren Salmons said. Among the separate experts on hand for the meeting were consultants on planning, environmental issues, overall engineering, utilities, sewage, water use, storm drainage, traffic, economic impact, public safety, fire and cultural concerns.

Their reports will be developed and submitted during the next 12 to 18 months for approval with many opportunities for more meetings. For example, the environmental impact review includes five periods for public input.

Construction of the first phase would take another 18 months. If approved by the city and the California Horse Racing Board , Dixon Downs could host its first races in 2006 at the earliest. Ideally, Magna would like 100 to 110 live racing days for the new track, McAlpine said.

Dixon Downs had grown significantly since the last time Magna hosted a public meeting for the town's residents almost exactly two years ago. The first phase – with an estimated pricetag of $130 million – would include a 1-1/8-mile dirt track, one-mile double-wide inner turf course and stabling for more than 1,600 horses. The Finish Line pavilion would accommodate up to 6,800 fans, including 1,800 traditional grandstand seats. The building would also double as a 2,000-seat theater in the round.

Phase Two features a 1.25 million-square-foot commercial complex, including a 240-room hotel and conference center, restaurants, multi-screen cinema, anchor department stores and upscale shops. The two phases would be blended together with California mission architecture, the complex leading up to the pavilion's front door.

But all that must be approved.

"This is a process, a very long complicated process, that we're willing to follow," McAlpine said. "We want people to be happy. We're not developing this property and leaving. We're a developer who's an operator. We'll be neighbors for generations. "

The plan was received positively by most of those attending the meeting.

"Speaking for Dixon business owners, I've got to tell you, we're excited," Chuck Krouse, a local real estate broker, told McAlpine. "We welcome you to Dixon." Heavy applause followed.

A few residents voiced concerns about traffic and the changes such a development could bring to small-town Dixon.

"We've got to decide whether we want that kind of change here," said one woman. "It's going to be huge."