It didn’t take long to go from one to potentially none.
Earlier this month, Hazel Park Raceway shuttered its Southeastern Michigan racetrack with little notice. The announcement came just 30 days before opening day, leaving both employees and the horsemen frantically searching for new homes.
Now, the one remaining track, Northville Downs, announced plans to turn their track into a luxury home site.
Two years left to get your race on
Northville Downs has plans to operate at their existing location through the 2020 racing season. Then it plans to step aside for the building of 500-600 new upscale residences.
Hunter Pasteur Homes recently announced it intends to buy Northville Downs for $10.25 million. Officials shared plans to build commercial and residential space on 48 acres near Sheldon Road and Hines Drive which includes the harness-racing track and some adjacent property.
“This project is in the preliminary stages, and we’re eager to continue working with the city of Northville and our partners to iron out the numerous details that come with a project of this scale,” Randy Wertheimer, president, and CEO of Hunter Pasteur said in a statement. “We expect to have all entitlements in place in 2019. As more details become available, we will share them with the community.”
Northville Downs reportedly looking for a new home
Mike Carlo, the operations manager for Northville Downs, indicated track operations will continue after the sale. Ideally, the new location will be near Northville.
“Live harness racing and simulcast wagering will continue at our current location through 2020,” Northville Downs said in a statement to Crain’s Detroit Business. “We are in the process of exploring multiple other locations to develop a first-class, state-of-the-art racing and gaming facility that Michigan will be proud of. We will continue to work closely with state and local representatives to implement the necessary changes that other states around us have so that we can bring racing back to its finest day.”
After the closing of Hazel Park, Carlo planned to add 30 additional employees to his staff of 69. Additionally, there is an agreement in place to purchase approximately $50,000 of Hazel Park’s assets.
These actions help support the move to a new location. Constructing a new track is the most likely scenario for the Northville Downs move.
Gaming laws and the future of Northville Downs
Carlo has been a voice for changing Michigan gaming laws to allow additional wagering, such as slot machines at tracks.
He has gone on record stating that the viability of the horse racing industry in Michigan is dependent on modeling operations on tracks in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.
“Thirty years ago, gambling was only done at the race track,” he said. “Now you can pretty much wager anywhere.” And by anywhere, Carlo means land-based casinos, fantasy sports, and even the online lottery.
Knowing Carlo’s position, there must be questions about the potential opening of a new track. And there are probably even more questions if there is a need to build a new one.
The last new horse track was built in 2008, just southwest of the Detroit airport. Pinnacle Race Course operated for three years. It was never completed before it shut down due to the decline in the horse racing market.
Carlo stands by his plan, one that included the sale and the move. “This (sale) was a plan that had been in place for a few years, and it just got solidified back in January,” he said. “They are still doing due diligence on the site.”
Northville Downs has been operating in the black for the past three years. With Hazel Park closing, it most likely will continue to find itself in positive territory for the next few.
Just how profitable the next three racing seasons are may be the deciding factor on the feasibility of a move and the viability of horse racing in Michigan.