Dixon Downs Plan About Ready for City Officials

Magna Entertainment Corp. expects to formally present project development plans for the proposed Dixon Downs in Northern California to the Dixon City Council by the end of the year.

Project consultant Don Erickson said he expects the complicated approval process for the 266-acre parcel, which is alongside U.S. Interstate 80 about 20 miles west of Sacramento, to take from a year to 18 months.

Erickson said he has met with Dixon planning staff and representatives from Magna, and anticipates no major changes from the original design, which first went before the public in a community forum held a year ago.

He said one issue that has arisen in negotiations with the city is the need to increase job potential for the land, which is zoned for industrial use, not open space. He said a high-end retail building or commercial office space would be added to the original design.

"Most of the (original) parking lot is gone," Erickson said, to make room for such non-track development.

Dixon Downs is intended to be a world-class example of 21st century racetracks, a high-tech gem designed to resemble a Florentine villa. The proposed grandstand would accommodate 5,000 people, with only 1,600 seats overlooking the track. Most of the other seating would be inside in dining rooms and simulcast areas with television monitors stationed in nooks throughout the building.

It also would serve as a multi-use pavilion for concerts and other entertainment. The track would include a nine-furlong outer dirt oval, a one-mile turf course, and an inner all-weather training track. There would be stalls for about 1,600 horses.

Progress has been slow so far, Erickson said, while officials work out issues related to the project. In the northeast quadrant of the project, for example, a drainage run-off problem was identified.

"It's a regional drainage problem," Erickson said. "It will take the cooperation from (landowners) involved and fortunately, everyone seems to be cooperating. It's an expensive project and it requires solution. If we can address these kinds of problems early enough in the process, then they won't become problems later."

In addition, Magna is expected to extend its operating lease at Bay Meadows to continue racing there for the near future, thus reducing the urgency to move quickly on the proposed track. With groundbreaking in Dixon likely to be 18 months away, and another 18 months to two years required to complete construction of the first major phase of the track, Dixon Downs is at least three years away from opening and probably closer to four, Erickson said.

The opening date could also depend on the type of opposition that it receives, and whether there is a court challenge of the environmental impact report. It's also possible the project could wind up requiring a public vote.

Erickson said he expects to hear from anti-gambling groups, animal activists, and "all of the forces that always come out any time a major development in California is proposed."

But he remains optimistic. "I think that when the community and council sees what the project is, they will see how much it benefits the city of Dixon," he said.