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Public hearing tonight on NYRA's proposed Race Course upgrades

Public hearing tonight on NYRA's proposed Race Course upgrades

The New York Racing Association will be investing $15 million a year for almost a decade in capital
Public hearing tonight on NYRA's proposed Race Course upgrades
This artist's rendering shows the permanent At The Rail facility the New York Racing Association hopes to build adjacent to the existing clubhouse at Saratoga Race Course.

The public can weigh in tonight on the New York Racing Association's plans for capital improvements at Saratoga Race Course.

NYRA plans to invest $15 million a year for almost a decade, according to a draft environmental-impact statement, including major new clubhouse construction.

Tonight's hearing, being overseen by the state Franchise Oversight Board, will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. this evening at the City Center.

In addition to a new At The Rail luxury clubhouse building west of the existing grandstand, the environmental impact study lays out plans for a new administrative and production kitchen building on Nelson Avenue at Wright Street, clubhouse modifications, and a new press box.

Also, there are plans for a new “Top of the Stretch Club” designed to appeal to younger people, and there are plans for a new jockeys’ building.

Significant improvements are also planned for the backstretch, the nearly two-thirds of the property that is reserved for the horses and those who work with and care for them. Projects there include new barns and dormitories.

In all, the draft generic environmental-impact statement lays out plans for what is expected to be nine years of capital work, governed by a roughly $15 million annual capital investment budget.

If the projects go forward, it would be the largest set of improvements at the track since the 1890s, when the current grandstand was constructed.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen said she plans to ask the city’s design review commission to review the plans, though the city has no approval power over the state-owned property.

NYRA leaders have said in recent years they want to make major investments in Saratoga — which draws far larger crowds than the two downstate tracks — as money began flowing into its coffers from the video lottery terminal betting at the Aqueduct track.

A public hearing on the draft generic environmental-impact statement will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 28, at the City Center, and the statement could be modified in response to any public comments.

The track is the oldest continuously operating race track in the United States, having been founded in 1863 by gambler John Morrissey and some wealthy investors.

In planning improvements, NYRA officials said their goal is to maintain the historic integrity of the track, which is on the national and state registers of historic places.

NYRA officials said they expect to follow a “letter of resolution” in which NYRA, the Franchise Oversight Board, the state Office of General Services and state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will coordinate to make sure new construction is consistent with the existing track, which contains 176 historic buildings or structures.

“The proposed project’s overall impact on the historic character of the Race Course is expected to be beneficial in that it aims to preserve and restore the historic character if the Race Course as a whole,” the draft states.

The At The Rail clubhouse addition NYRA officials confirmed last week would be a three-story building just west of the grandstand, where the At The Rail luxury tents are now set up each summer.

“The proposed 34,000-square-foot three-story building would provide a variety of high-end hospitality venues including banquet areas, outdoor dining terraces, restaurant and party suites with balconies overlooking the Race Course,” the plan states.

“The building would provide a level of service and higher-end amenities currently not available at the Race Course and increased sponsorship potential.”

Overall, NYRA doesn’t believe there will be large increases in the 900,000 or so people who attend the 40-day thoroughbred racing meet every summer. This year’s meet begins July 24.

The increased water and sewer use if more horses, workers and bettors are drawn to the track should be accommodated with improvements that the city already has in the works, according to the draft study — and new traffic can be handled with more coordination with the city’s police traffic division.

The GEIS is available at the nyra.com website under the Saratoga section, and on the city’s website.

Physical copies are available at City Hall, the Saratoga Springs Public Library, National Racing Museum and state Office of General Services in Albany.

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