By James Fink
Fort Erie Race Track may eventually be surrounded by a hospitality and tourism-themed series of developments.
Buffalo developer Carl Paladino hinted as much during a Tuesday briefing that came just hours after he and his investment partners — local business leaders Joel Castle and Joseph Mosey — completed their deal to acquire 338 acres of land just off Queen Elizabeth Way. The land includes the 117-year-old track.
“I like the fact that they are building on what we already have here,” said Fort Erie Mayor Douglas Martin. “They and their plans are giving life back to this grand old lady. To me, this is the beginning of a new era for the track and for Fort Erie.”
While Paladino said development plans are preliminary, he expects whatever is constructed on the land will be hospitality and tourism-based in nature. That would dovetail off the race track and the $400 million Canadian Motorsport Speedway that’s expected to open within the next three years.
Paladino said that more definitive plans will likely be unveiled this fall, if not sooner.
“This isn’t something that’s just sitting there waiting for something else to happen,” Paladino said.
When pressed, Paladino thinks the entire project could be completed within “the next five or six years.”
The development should not only create jobs in Fort Erie, Paladino said he also hopes it is the catalyst for other private sector-fueled projects.
Fort Erie leaders want the track to go back to a 74-date schedule of live races, up from the 37 authorized for this year. They are also pushing leaders in Queen’s Park to allow the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. to bring back slot machines to the track. Fort Erie lost its slot machine operations when OLGC removed them more than two years ago.
“All we are asking for is a level playing field,” said James Thibert, Fort Erie’s economic development chief. “Queen’s Park needs to understand that this track is so much more important to our community than what Woodbine (Track) means to Toronto. We view the track as an anchor for future development projects.”
The Paladino-led development consortium spent the past three years working on the sale agreement with the property’s immediate past owner, Israeli-based Nordic Gaming Corp., and also with Fort Erie officials.
While Paladino said he was open to selling off parcels to other developers, his focus is on the hospitality/tourism project.
“We’re developers,” he said. “We’re not investors. We hit the ground running every morning. People don’t understand just how important the Southern Canadian peninsula is to our city.”