Following Monday's announcement that 80-year-old East Bay racetrack Golden Gate Fields plans to shut down racing for good this fall, the talk has already begun about could be done with the 140-acre property.
It's barely been 36 hours since track owner The Stronach Group announced that Golden Gate Fields will host its last horserace in early October, and the news has wide-ranging impacts for hundreds of employees, horse owners, jockeys, and horses. The LA Times' coverage of the closure suggests that Stronarch Group is shuttering their only Northern California property to "help prop up Santa Anita racing" — and Stronarch basically said as much Monday.
The company owns two SoCal tracks, Santa Anita Park in Arcadia and San Luis Rey Downs, and they say they plan to start racing four days a week instead of three at Santa Anita starting in January.
"Focusing on Santa Anita Park and San Luis Rey Downs as state-of-the-art racing and training facilities that offer enhanced program quality, increased race days, expanded wagering opportunities, and premier hospitality and entertainment experiences is vital to ensuring that California racing can continue to compete and thrive on a national level," the company said in a statement to the LA Times.
The Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) put out a statement suggesting that the closure was not surprising, and that the writing had been on the wall at Golden Gate Fields for years.
"Production costs and purse generation in California do not have the benefit of a second source of income like other competing states, leaving little margin for error," TOC President and Chief Executive Bill Nader tells the LAT. "The Golden Gate Fields business model has been in a fragile state for years... We will work together with our industry partners to find the right path forward to growing horse racing in California, and preserving its positive impact on jobs, the economy, and the state breeding industry."
What happens next for this prime, bayfront property we likely won't know for years, and the first step will likely be to change how it's zoned, says Albany Mayor Aaron Tiedemann. Tiedemann tells ABC 7 that if the owners decide they want to sell the property, Albany will have some say — along with Berkeley — about what happens with it.
The 140-acre parcel straddles the two cities, and it has been a racetrack since 1941, with a break during WWII. It is currently zoned for waterfront recreation.
"I think it's really a gift from the gods because it gives the whole region an opportunity to plan for development," says ABC7 News Political Analyst and former House Rep. Jackie Speier. Speier's former district included the former Bay Meadows track in San Mateo, which shut down 15 years ago and has since been redeveloped as residential and retail.
"It was within three years we saw a whole new community arise and I think you're going to see that opportunity [here] as well," Speier tells ABC 7. "You can create a recreational area within Golden Gate Fields area, there's so much you can do. It's really a blank canvas that can be made into something pretty spectacular."
There will likely also be a push fro the community to keep the area as open space, however the land is likely too valuable not to redevelop some of it as housing.
As the Thoroughbred Times reported in 2011, not long after The Stronarch Group took ownership of the property, Golden Gate Fields was on a short list of potential sites for a new campus development for the University of California — and Stronarch actually pursued that potential deal until UC chose a different site. That plan would have included laboratories, a hotel, green space, and campus facilities.
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