Plans are moving forward to expand the clubhouse at Saratoga Race Course in what would be the historic track’s largest capital improvement in a half-century.
The New York Racing Association and state Office of General Services will hold a public hearing May 28 at the City Center on plans to replace the current At The Rail tent with a permanent, three-story structure including banquet facilities and luxury boxes.
The structure hasn’t been fully designed, but an artist’s rendering released by NYRA shows a building similar in architectural style to the existing grandstand, set to its west near the first turn.
A permanent At the Rail facility would replace the tents and trailers that are currently erected and dismantled every season, NYRA spokesman John Durso said.
“It would provide a variety of hospitality venues, including banquet areas, outdoor dining terraces, restaurant and party suites with balconies overlooking the race course,” he said.
Durso said the building’s design, while not final, will be keeping with the historic setting of the track. He didn’t offer a price tag.
The design “will reflect our continued commitment to maintaining the historic landscape and character of the Saratoga Race Course,” he said.
The proposed clubhouse expansion is part of a larger 10- to 15-year capital improvement plan that also calls for new horse barns and dormitories for workers on the track’s backstretch.
The NYRA Franchise Oversight Board earlier this week approved a draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the master plan. The GEIS is expected to be released to the public Monday.
The Franchise Oversight Board is lead agency for the environmental review, charged with assessing the impacts of any proposed improvements.
The public hearing and public comment period through June 15 will be followed by a response to those comments, a final impact statement and findings concerning environmental impacts. The process is likely to take several more months, and until it is complete, NYRA officials wouldn’t speculate on when a clubhouse expansion might be built.
NYRA has said it plans to spend nearly $100 million on track improvements at Saratoga in coming years, as money from VLT betting at Aqueduct comes into its coffers. The last major construction at the 330-acre property was a clubhouse addition completed in 1965.
The Saratoga track attracts about 900,000 visitors a year and is the central feature of the summer tourism economy, many of those visitors attracted by its historic grounds.
The goal of the improvements “is a more modern setting within the context of a historic resource, a very difficult challenge,” Daniel Ruzow, an attorney for NYRA, told the Franchise Oversight Board.
The plans now are conceptual, he said, with detailed design work on each project still to be done.
The entire 152-year-old Union Avenue track is listed on the state and national historic registers. The state Historic Preservation Office is expected to be involved in approving individual project designs, including those for the clubhouse addition, according to Peter Lebowitz, senior vice-president at AKRF, a New York City planning and engineering firm working on the environmental impact statement.
“Saratoga takes its history very seriously,” Lebowitz said.
The track is owned by New York state, which means the city has no approval power over the design, though NYRA officials said they want any addition to appear historic.
The track’s 40-day summer meet offers what’s widely considered some of the best thoroughbred racing in the world, including the annual Travers Stakes. NYRA officials would like to see attendance grow.
Lebowitz told the Franchise Oversight Board on Monday that NYRA is already in talks with the city about how to address water and sewer capacity issues that could arise as the track is expanded and more workers and visitors use it.
The public hearing will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 28, at the City Center.
Written comments will be accepted through June 15 by Carolyn Dunderdale, Office of General Services, 33rd Floor, Corning Tower, Albany, NY 12242. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
This year’s Saratoga meet opens July 24 and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 7.