NYRA Has Capital Plan for $100 Million in Loans

The New York Racing Association should know by the end of the week of June 24 if it will receive about $100 million in new loans for a major capital program at its three racetracks, the head of the racing organization said.

NYRA chairman Barry Schwartz said that about $70 million would be pumped into Aqueduct to renovate the facility and create space to house video lottery terminals. Schwartz made his remarks in Albany following an event touting the upcoming Saratoga meet.

NYRA has been approved by the state, under a law last October, to install 2,500 VLTs. If it gets the machines up and running by next spring, its franchise, set to expire in 2007, will be extended another five years.

Schwartz said much of the remainder of the loan would help fund several ambitious construction projects at Saratoga. He has floated the idea of extending its historic clubhouse to accommodate more fans; on June 24, Schwartz said he did not know whether the clubhouse would be expanded eastward or vertically above its existing roofline.

NYRA also may build one or two tunnels under the track that would permit fans, for the first time since the 1980s, to watch races from the infield. Also, Schwartz has said NYRA wants to build new horse stalls to bring more horsemen in for the Saratoga meet.

In all, he put a rough number of $20 million that could be spent on Saratoga; how the remaining $10 million would be spent is unclear, he said.

Schwartz said historic preservationists should not be worried about his ideas. "I'm not going to do anything that's going to bring down its image," he said of the summertime mecca for thousands of racing fans.

Schwartz also said some of NYRA's plans may hinge on the action of state legislators. NYRA and other racetracks are pushing a plan to permit eligible tracks to extend the VLT hours once the machines are on line. In addition, the tracks are trying to get the state Lottery Division, which will run the VLT program, to give more of its proceeds to the tracks to help pay for expenses.

Both measures are on the agenda the week of June 24 as the legislature wraps up its 2002 session.

Without the changes, Schwartz said it "makes the financing that much more difficult." The $70-million VLT construction program for Aqueduct is $50 million below what Schwartz originally wanted to spend for what he envisions to be a Las Vegas-style casino.