Thursday, May 03, 2007

Resort Hotel Eyed For Aqueduct

Queens Chronicle

Very interesting article on some of the proposals for taking over NYRA and what to do with the racetracks.......a must read if you are following this whole process.........andy

Sky-high hotels and gaming resorts may be in the cards for Aqueduct and Belmont, if the firms vying for control of the two racetracks get their way. Last month, representatives from each of the four bidders — Capital Play, Empire Racing, Excelsior Racing and the New York Racing Association — outlined their plans to the members of a state racing panel in Albany. In addition to controlling Aqueduct Race Track in South Ozone Park, and Belmont Park Race Track on the Queens-Nassau border, the winning bidder would run Saratoga Race Course, located upstate. The three tracks constitute the state’s racing franchise, which the New York Racing Association has run since 1955. Each bidder hopes to woo state officials with promises of millions of dollars in tax revenue and renderings of gaming resorts that would draw droves of affluent leisure-seekers who now head to Atlantic City and Connecticut. Empire Racing’s $2 billion proposal centers on the construction of a 325-room hotel and entertainment complex on Aqueduct’s 200 acres. It would include the development of Aqueduct Live! — modeled after Woodbine Live! at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. Aqueduct Live! would have high-end bars, restaurants, shops and a live music venue, according to Empire Racing spokesman Dave Vermillion. Both Aqueduct and Belmont would get new backstretch areas and Belmont would also see the construction of a row of new corporate suites overlooking the racing area. Capital Play, a group of Australian investors, pitched their plan for the development of a similar hotel and entertainment complex that would be geared toward 21- to 35-year-olds. The three sub-options within their proposal, each of which includes the creation of a multistory hotel tower, range in price from $730 million to $1.8 billion. Through aggressive subway and billboard ad campaigns, Capital would target women, many of whom don’t regularly visit the tracks. “Our goal is to reinvent New York state horse racing,” Capital Play CEO Karl O’Farrell told panel members. Excelsior Racing would make grandstand, clubhouse and racetrack improvements at Aqueduct, but the lion’s share of its investment would be put toward the construction of a 500-room hotel at Belmont. Excelsior, whose advisory board members include famed jockey Jerry Baily and the Rev. Floyd Flake, the pastor of Jamaica’s Greater Allen Cathedral, won the endorsement of a nine-member recommendation committee last November. The committee, formed by former Gov. George Pataki, placed Empire second in its preference ranking. The New York Racing Association fared poorly in November because of what many committee members viewed as a checkered history of fiscal irresponsibility. It declared bankruptcy last November. As it petitions the state to renew its contract, NYRA’s proposal does not center on large development projects. It would instead change its status as a nonprofit corporation to a not-for-profit one, and make changes to its simulcasting pricing model. All the interested firms proposed installing video lottery terminals at Belmont and Aqueduct. The panel evaluating the proposals includes three of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s appointees, two members of the Assembly and two members of the state Senate, including John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights). They will deliver a decision to Spitzer by the end of May. If NYRA is not selected by Spitzer and the Legislature, a new firm will assume control of the franchise on Jan. 1, 2008. Although many in South Ozone Park have expressed concern about Aqueduct’s future, Vermillion said: “Anything that we do will be in full cooperation with the community. We’re not just going to drop a hotel in here without talking to people.” Citing the concerns of some of her constituents, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) said that a hotel built too close to homes and businesses may be detrimental. But she added that South Queens would benefit from the tax revenue the facility would generate. Merchants on Crossbay Boulevard and other commercial strips may also enjoy increased business, Pheffer said. Sabini said that because so many hotels already exist around Kennedy Airport, the Aqueduct resort might be an “easy sell.” But he said that he would not endorse or oppose any plan until he had a better sense of the scope of the development.

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