Churchill Downs Delays Vote on $100 million Renovation Project

Churchill Downs has postponed asking its board of directors to approve the financing for a $100 million renovation project.

The Louisville racing conglomerate had hoped the board could review and vote on a proposal to radically upgrade its flagship racetrack when it met after the company's annual meeting Thursday morning. The project, however, will require some public assistance with financing and all the pieces of that puzzle had not yet been secured, according to Mike Miller, Churchill Downs' senior vice president of finance.

"We're taking a three-prong approach and we only have one prong in place," Miller said. The first prong was the creation of a special taxing district that will return to Churchill Downs up to 80% of tax revenue, an estimated $250,000 a year, generated by the improvements. Louisville's board of aldermen voted June 11 to form the district, which encompasses the racetrack, parking lots, barn area, and the Kentucky Derby Museum. No revenue from the museum, however, will go to the track.

Miller said he could not talk about the other two prongs because they were being negotiated. He did say an announcement on the second prong could come within the next several days.

A review of the renovation plans also delayed the vote, according to Miller.

"We have learned a few thing from the on-going work," Miller said about phase one of Churchill Downs' renovation master plan, which began the Monday after the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and will cost $27 million. "We are re-thinking phase two. I like to call it a right-sizing of the major components."

Phase II will still add 12 new corporate luxury suites, a new 1,700-seat simulcasting parlor, a new sports bar and lounge, and a renovation of the Gate 10 entrance off Longfield Ave. The size and configurations of these components, however, is being adjusted, according to Miller.

The Luckett & Farley architecture firm is currently working on the design of phase II and establishing a construction timeline. Churchill Downs' goal is to have all the new construction finished by the end of 2004. The postponed vote does not threaten that deadline, but the company cannot wait too long.

Miller said Churchill Downs has a couple weeks to get the plans and the financing put together. When they are ready, he said a special session of the board would be convened.