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New York greenlights $455m racing Belmont development


On May 2, New York State lawmakers approved the FY 2024 budget, which included funding for a $455m loan to renovate and upgrade the Belmont Park race track.    

Non-for-profit racetrack operator the New York Racing Association (NYRA) is charged with developing the project to build the new thoroughbred racing facility at Belmont Park.

The NYRA said that the “significant” construction development would have no cost to tax payers, due to being funded through loans that the operator is obliged to pay back to the state government.

Belmont Park’s existing grandstand and clubhouse are to be replaced with a new building, designed to “reflect the evolution” of racing and wagering since the site was last redeveloped in 1968.

In keeping with the declining popularity of racing in New York, the new construction is to be smaller, with the current 1.25 million square foot facility set to be replaced with a 275,000 square foot structure.

According to the NYRA, the new building is to feature many more of the modern amenities and hospitality offerings common today at sports venues.

Transformation of Belmont Park

“The transformation of Belmont Park will secure the future of thoroughbred racing in New York State, create thousands of good jobs and drive tourism to Long Island and the region for decades to come,” said NYRA president and CEO David O’Rourke.

“We thank Gov. Hochul and our legislative leaders for recognizing the importance of this project to the countless New York families and small businesses reliant on a strong horse racing economy.”

The organisation highlighted the role played by senator Joseph Addabbo and assemblyman Gary Pretlow for advancing the project as respective chairs of the Senate and Assembly Committees on Racing, Wagering and Gaming.

The NYRA said it would engage organised labour to develop the project, which is set to also expand the amount of parkland available to fans by developing the “Belmont backyard”.

“NYRA is committed to building a world-class venue that honors the history and traditions of this iconic property within a modernized overall facility,” added O’Rourke. “We will deliver a revitalized Belmont Park that will reclaim its place as a global capital of thoroughbred horse racing.”

Economic impact of the project

According to an economic analysis of the project by real estate consultants HR&A Advisors, the multi-year project will create 3700 construction jobs and produce $1bn in construction-related economic impact.

The new racing and non-racing facilities at the developed site will cause $155m in economic impact per year, as well as supporting 740 new full time jobs. Following the completion of the project, Belmont Park will annually generate $10m in new state and local tax revenue.

“A new and re-imagined Belmont Park will guarantee the return of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to New York after a lengthy absence,” noted the NYRA. “In November, the Breeders’ Cup announced its commitment to add Belmont to the rotation of host venues following NYRA’s modernization of the facility.”

Opposition to the project

The development has not been greeted with universal praise. In an op-ed she wrote in the Times Union, former sopranos star Edie Falco and spokesperson for the End Horse Racing Subsidies campaign organisation criticised the project for what she characterised as its dubious benefits.

“Even if we pretend this is a loan, there’s simply no precedent in New York history for loaning a half billion dollars to any private business, much less one with the poor business metrics of NYRA,” she said.

“When pressed, NYRA supporters point to unsubstantiated economic development and jobs claims — claims that have never been independently verified,” she said. “In fact, buried deep in agency appropriations documents in the executive budget is a line calling for an “independent racing study” —  a striking admission that even the governor’s office doesn’t buy the industry’s numbers.”