By Jim Freer
Tuesday, July 28 –Calder Casino & Race Course reportedly is planning to demolish its seven-story grandstand/clubhouse building, starting early this December.
“They (Calder) have told us that they plan to start tearing down their building right after the end of our Gulfstream Park West meet,” Gulfstream Park general manager P.J. Campo said in a recent interview about Gulfstream’s 2015 racing meets.
Campo added that Calder has told Gulfstream that it will not open the grandstand building to the public during the 40-day Gulfstream Park West meet, from Oct. 7 through Nov. 28. Gulfstream, which is running the meet but does not control the Calder building, will set up tents where fans can bet and be protected from rain and other elements.
Officials of Calder and of its parent Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) of Louisville, Ky., did not respond to an e-mail and did not return phone calls between last Thursday and yesterday.
In several articles we did for the Bloodhorse Web site, CDI director of investor relations Courtney Norris said the company has a policy of declining to comment on requests for details about its plans at Calder because of Securities and Exchange Commission rules that prohibit release of forward-looking information.
CDI trades on the Nasdaq under the symbol CHDN. It is scheduled to release its second quarter results at 4:30 p/m Eastern tomorrow.
This fall’s meet at Calder will be the second in which Gulfstream is using the Gulfstream Park West (GP West) name under terms of a lease agreement the two tracks and their parent companies signed last summer.
That deal ended the tracks’ bitter racing dates dispute that culminated in head-to-head weekend racing between July 2013 and June 2014.
Several South Florida horsemen said they had heard talk about a Calder plan to tear down its building. Thus, they were not surprised by the information from Campo.
Basically CDI is getting out of racing at Calder and no longer needs the building that it opened in 1971, the same year it opened its track.
Campo added that during the GP West meet the building’s sixth and seventh floors will be open for the stewards, placing judges, Equibase chart callers and personnel of companies that time and film races.
During last fall’s GP West meet Calder kept the first floor of its building open for wagering and had a refreshment stand inside.
This fall, Gulfstream will put up several tents outside the Calder building, Campo said. The tents will have mutuel clerks, betting machines and refreshments, The several hundred seats between the building and the track will remain in place.
Gulfstream is holding its summer meet, from July 1 through Oct. 3. at its track in Hallandale Beach. Fla. Calder is in Miami Gardens, Fla., eight miles west of Gulfstream.
Calder has not had racing under its name since June 30, 2014. That also was the last day its grandstand building was open to the public, for simulcasting or any other reason, except for the GP West meet last October and November.
Until 2012, Calder traditionally had racing from mid April until late November each year.
If Calder tears down its grandstand, it would follow the work it did in April when it tore down barns that had about 1,400 stalls in an area of its backside that it has designated for a non-racing commercial re-development.
Calder and CDI have not released any details of their plans for re-development.
There have been reports that Calder is considering its former backside as a site for a transportation logistics center for trucks that travel between airports in Florida or as the site for a hotel.
As of late April, Calder had not obtained any of the necessary permits from government agencies for construction or for tear-down work.
Officials of the City of Miami Gardens did not respond to phone messages and an e-mail on Friday or yesterday.
The Calder Building
There are reports that Calder’s building has asbestos, and would thus require a traditional demolition rather than an implosion.
The building is connected by a covered walkway to the casino that Calder opened in January 2010.
Since then, many trainers and owners have complained about deteriorating conditions in the building and the barns at Calder. Some maintained that Calder gave the casino a huge priority in terms of spending on repairs and renovations.
On many days, horsemen and race fans had to deal with broken elevators and broken escalators.
David Fawkes. Marty Wolfson and Eddie Plesa Jr. are among prominent trainers who have mentioned those types of problems.
Amid ongoing declines in its handle Calder early this decade closed the building’s third and fourth floors, which in prior years were crowded with fans on many weekend days, In 2013 Calder closed its Turf Club on the fifth floor.
Gulfstream and Calder
In the agreement signed last summer, Gulfstream and its parent The Stronach Group of Aurora, Ont.,
leased Calder’s racing operations through the end of 2020. Gulfstream pays all costs and receives all revenues in running the GP West meets.
CDI continues to own all of Calder’s 220-acre property including the grandstand. Most significantly CDI continues to own and operate the Calder casino that has about 1,200 Las Vegas-style slot machines.
For CDI to keep that casino, Calder must have at least 40 race days per year. A key factor In getting CDI to accept last year’s deal was getting the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagon’s approval for the dates leased by Gulfstream to be used by CDI in meeting its requirement for the casino.
In April this year, Calder began saying publicly that it would like to rid itself of a requirement to have live racing. It told a committee of the Florida legislature that it would like to be able to decouple its racing requirement from other gaming.
In each of the last three years, the legislature considered but did not pass bills that would have permitted greyhound tracks to stop having live racing while keeping their poker and simulcasting business. That includes bringing in Thoroughbred signals,
If Calder is decoupled, it would be allowed to keep its casino. Calder is in Miami-Dade, which along with Broward are the only Florida counties in which casinos are permitted at pari-mutuels.
The Florida legislature will begin its 2016 session Jan. 12.
The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association are concerned about whether Calder. if allowed to decouple, might attempt to alter some terms of its 2014 agreement–which has restored some stability and continuity in South Florida racing.
NOTE: The photo on the home page with this story is from bloodhorse.com and was taken by South Florida racing photographer Leslie Martin. The inset-photo is by HorseRacingFLA photographer.