By Kris Dube
FORT ERIE – The Fort Erie Race Track will be complimented with hospitality and tourism-focused development in the next five to six years, according to its new ownership.
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, the development team that has recently purchased the 117-year-old track and its surrounding property was introduced to members of the media and local dignitaries.
Specific details were not provided about the new ownership’s vision for the property.
One of the developers involved in the takeover from Nordic Gaming, the track’s previous owner, is Carl Paladino, a well-known and highly respected businessman from Buffalo, N.Y.
He said the new team in place will elaborate further on its vision for the property in the very near future.
“There’s a more specific vision in there – which we’ll give you at a more appropriate time,” said Paladino, who did hint that major one or two-day events are part of the overall scope.
In previous years, the FELRC has leased the track property from Nordic Gaming for $400,000 annually.
The Buffalo-based developer, who ran for Governor of New York in 2010 but was defeated by Andrew Cuomo, said the plan to revitalize on the track’s property doesn’t depend on any other decisions by governments this side of the border – such as the return of slot machines.
“We buy things we feel are right at the time and we feel we can add value to,” said Paladino, the founder and chairman of Ellicott Development Company, a real-estate development company, founded in 1973.
The portions of vacant land that surround the track and its infield total approximately 200 acres and the entire property is 338 acres.
The Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium has operated the racetrack as a non-profit organization for the last five seasons. The provincial government has allocated approximately $7.9 million.
Paladino is partnered with Bill Mosey and Joel Castle, also businessmen from Buffalo, along with David Kompson, a developer with properties in Western New York and several in Fort Erie – mostly commercial plazas on Garrison Road.
He said their plans don’t involve a bailout for the cash-strapped facility, but are designed to support the attractiveness of the FELRC’s operations and create new opportunities for commerce at the site – while also working with the government to create a plan that allows for 74 race dates in a season.
“We want people to be encouraged that things are going to grow here,” he said.
Jim Thibert, chief executive officer of the FELRC and general manager of Fort Erie’s Economic Development and Tourism Corporation said bringing new ownership into the picture – with plans for redevelopment – should create bigger crowds and more money being spent at the historic facility.
“The track will act as an anchor for these developments – it’s a great synergy,” he said.
According to Thibert, seeing slot machines returned to the venue would also be another extraordinary compliment. He also claims it would cost “zero” dollars to reinstall them.
“It costs nothing to put them back,” said Thibert.
Paladino said the opportunities he and his colleagues were attracted to are “unbelievable,” such as the Canadian Motor Speedway, a 65,000-seat, $4 million development still in primary stages of construction only a few kilometres away on 823 acres of land near the Queen Elizabeth Way.
“That’s going to create all kinds of commerce,” said Paladino.
Mayor Doug Martin said he is thrilled to have investors who are familiar with Fort Erie.
“They’re local people that understand the dynamics of the area,” said Martin.
“We see this as a perfect fit for what we want to see done here,” he added.
No sale price has been listed for the track and on Tuesday – Paladino declined to discuss the amount for which it was purchased.