Maybe the ancient Mayans were right... · 10.03.12
… about Hastings Racecourse, at least. The Mayan calendar “ends” this year, which to some people means the world will end. That’s certainly so much malarkey, of course. However, it’s starting to look like the world of thoroughbred racing at Hastings really could end this year.
As noted here last fall, the City of Vancouver and Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, the parent company of Hastings Racecourse, have been in long drawn-out negotiations regarding the renewal of GCGC’s lease of the track, which lies on City property (Hastings Park). The five-year lease expires in November this year. Negotiations had reportedly been going nowhere fast, and there were even rumours of a lawsuit being threatened by the City against GCGC citing the lack of improvements to Hastings racing facilities promised by GCGC in the original lease agreement. More about that shortly.
At the same time the City had been working on a master plan for Hastings Park, which includes the track, Playland, Empire Fields, and the annual Pacific National Exhibition. In 2010 that plan was approved by City Council. Since then a series of public consultations have been held to gather public input into on the design of new park spaces and facilities.
What’s striking about the process in general, and the master plan in particular, is the apparent absence of any significant input from GCGC. Hastings senior managers Raj Mutti and Paul Ryneveld are noted as members of the technical committee and stakeholders’ group, respectively — as are several prominent local horsemen. The track’s role in the process is acknowledged:
Hastings Racecourse, although strongly interrelated with the Master Plan process, has been moving ahead under its own planning process which is regulated by the Province of BC and the 2007 Operating Agreement [i.e. the five-year lease] developed with the City of Vancouver.
Several key components of this Master Plan are accommodated for in the 2007 Operating Agreement and are addressed in this report…. Great Canadian Gaming, the current operator of Hastings Racecourse, has provided input into this planning process.
Beyond this acknowledgement, however, Hastings Racecourse is barely mentioned. There’s lots of description of the “greening” of Hastings Park, and proposals for augmenting sports and recreational facilities. There’s nothing about the recreational value of a day at the races, or the greening of the track’s infield to include a pond, marsh, and wildlife habitat (including coyotes) — paid for, in part at least, by GCGC. Instead, a glance at the map showing the “vision” for Hastings Park shows a big blank space where the racecourse is. Instead of the green space in the track’s infield, the master plan shows a parking lot.
The track’s near-absence from the Hastings Park master plan, together with the protracted lease negotiations between the City and GCGC, have made me increasingly worried about the future of thoroughbred racing in Vancouver. An article by local sports reporter Bob Mackin, published on-line by the Vancouver Courier yesterday, confirmed those fears. Thanks to Fraser Rawlinson for alerting me to this breaking story.
Highlights from Mackin’s article:
- GCGC has rejected renewal of its existing lease with the City;
- in particular, the company objected to a 15-year renewal clause, and a requirement to build a parkade and upgrade the barn area;
- GCGC has written off more than $50 million worth of its Hastings assets;
- negotiations are continuing.
One possible factor behind these developments, that I have not read about elsewhere, is the death last year of long-time GCGC CEO Ross McLeod. In an interview with Tom Wolski in 2008, McLeod made it clear that his company had a continuing interest in fostering the revitalization of racing in British Columbia. He said all the right things, and as a horse-owner he appeared to be optimistic about the sport’s future in the province. It is highly questionable if his successor, Rod Baker, who called horse racing “a sunsetting business, virtually everywhere in North America”, shares McLeod’s vision.
The Railbird Corner at the Derby Bar and Grill website corroborated the news earlier today. GCGC Vice-President Howard Blank stated, regarding the proposed upgrades to their facilities, that Hastings’ revenues “have not been positive enough for us to be able to do that kind of capital commitment”, but that he was “very optimistic” that a deal could still be reached.
To be honest, I do not share his optimism — I hope I’m wrong.
If you liked this you might like:
What do you think?