Historic preservationists generally spoke in favor of major improvements proposed at Saratoga Race Course during a public hearing Thursday, though they said they want more details.
“What I see initially in a broad-brush form is encouraging,” said Steven Rowland, chairman of the Saratoga Springs Design Review Commission.
“We’re in favor of reinvesting in the track, keeping it functional … but as usual, the devil is in the details,” said Jay DiLorenzo, president of the Preservation League of New York State.
Rowland and DiLorenzo were among a dozen speakers at a public hearing held by the state Franchise Oversight Board, which is reviewing the New York Racing Association’s plans to spend $15 million per year over the next decade on improvements at the 152-year-old track, the oldest operating racetrack in the country.
Those improvements — the most extensive in more than a half-century — include a new luxury clubhouse addition, a less formal club for younger fans, a new institutional kitchen and new horse barns and worker dormitories. NYRA wants to start with the At The Rail luxury clubhouse addition.
Thursday’s public hearing at the City Center was part of an environmental impact review being conducted by the Franchise Oversight Board. About 75 people attended.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen spoke in favor of the improvements.
“We know this is critical,” she said. “The success of racing means the success of Saratoga Springs.”
Rowland encouraged NYRA to submit each project to the Design Review Commission if it goes forward. Because NYRA is overseen by the state, that local review isn’t required.
“We have had numerous applicants tell us at the end of the process they felt their projects were better because of our input,” Rowland said.
The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation worked with NYRA on inventorying historic structures at the track, said Samantha Bosshart, the foundation’s executive director.
“We generally support many of the concepts before us, including the At The Rail, because they accommodate the needs of the patrons and safety, but we do feel there will be historic resources impacted,” Bosshart said.
Several animal rights advocates also spoke, saying NYRA shouldn’t spend money on fan improvements without taking better care of the horses during their racing careers and in retirement.
“Before millions of dollars [are] put into encouraging public attendance, we would like some of the money to go to horses,” said Susan McDonough of the New York State Humane Society.
In a statement, NYRA said it will incorporate community feedback into its plans.
The Franchise Oversight Board will accept written comments through June 15 in care of the Office of General Services in Albany. NYRA will have a chance to respond to the comments before the environmental impact statement is completed.