Day At The Track

Northville Downs to be redeveloped

05:53 AM 18 Apr 2018 NZST
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Northville Downs, harness racing
The Northville Downs site is approximately 48 acres. Farmington Hills-based homebuilder Hunter Pasteur Homes expects to purchase it for a large residential development.

Farmington Hills-based homebuilder Hunter Pasteur Homes is under contract to buy the Northville Downs harness racing racetrack and redevelop the 48-acre property for housing.

The harness racetrack's land has long been sought by developers in upscale Northville, but the project wouldn't necessarily end horse racing in the area.

The site near Sheldon Road and Hines Drive is expected to be turned into 500-600 apartments and for-sale townhouses and single-family homes, according to a news release. Commercial uses are also expected.

Northville Downs, Michigan's last horse track since Hazel Park Raceway closed earlier this month, will remain open until the development begins. The track's owners will seek to continue racing and wagering operations "at an area in close proximity to its current location," according to the statement from Hunter Pasteur Homes.

"This project is in the preliminary stages, and we're eager to continue working with the city of Northville and our partners to iron out the numerous details that come with a project of this scale," Randy Wertheimer, president and CEO of Hunter Pasteur, said in a statement. "We expect to have all entitlements in place in 2019. As more details become available, we will share them with the community."

Additional details such as purchase price and planned development cost were not disclosed.

The Carlo family owns some of the track's acreage, and an investment group called Northville Driving Club Corp. owns the rest. The Carlos are minority shareholders in that entity.

It's the second expected redevelopment of a horse racing track in Southeast Michigan this month following the April 5 closure of the Hazel Park Raceway. That track is expected to be sold for industrial or commercial use after 69 years as a thoroughbred and harness track.

Northville management told Crain's last week that it's adding staff and buying $50,000 or more of Hazel Park's track, horse and hospitality equipment and fixtures to handle the influx of gamblers with nowhere else to wager on horses in Michigan.

Northville Downs has 69 employees for the waging and racing business. It's been profitable for the past three years, track co-owner Mike Carlo said, and the closing of Hazel Park Raceway will help ensure Northville Downs remains in the black for a while longer.

No details are yet available on what Northville Downs might do to race elsewhere after selling its current site. Carlo has promised a statement.

Track land such as Northville Downs and Hazel Park are seen as more valuable for other purposes as interest in racing as declined.

Eight Michigan horse tracks have closed since 1998 as the public has instead opted to spend money at the commercial and tribal casinos across the state, and because the lottery expanded and online forms of gambling have proliferated. The amount of money wagered at Michigan horse tracks on live racing has fallen from $22.1 million across seven tracks in 2006 to $4.2 million at two tracks in 2016, according to state data. That's an 81 percent decline. Combined live and simulcast betting in the state over that decade dropped from $281.1 million in 2006 to $103.2 million in 2016.

Northville Downs can trace its roots to 1902. A driving club was formed in 1907 to manage land in Northville that had been turned into a rudimentary fairgrounds horse track in 1902. Michigan didn't create a formal pari-mutuel harness racing law until 1933, and Northville Downs became the entity it is today in 1944.

The track business itself leases the land from the Northville Driving Club on an annual basis, and any sale would require both the club and family to jointly sell. Northville Downs gets a handful of offers every year from developers interested in buying some or all of the track's acreage, Carlo said.

By Kirk Pinho and Bill Shea
 
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