Hollywood Park racetrack faces redevelopment

imageHollywood Park prepares to host what could be its last season of races this month.

Developers of Hollywood Park Tomorrow are working their way through the raft of city, state and federal licenses and permits required to tear down Inglewood’s famous horse racing track and replace it with a massive development featuring residential, retail and office space.

If all goes according to plan, developers may be ready to close down the track within a year.

“Once we have permission to go from all authorities, then we will look at that point at shutting the race track down,” said Gerard McCallum, the project manager for the development group Wilson Meany Sullivan. “That will require at the very minimum six months notice with the horse racing board.”

The developers have guaranteed that there will be racing at Hollywood Park for the entire 2010 season. The California Horse Racing Board approved 100 racing dates, starting with opening day on April 21.

“We’ve been told to operate as if we’ll be here indefinitely,” said Mike Mooney, the director of publicity for Hollywood Park.

McCallum said that construction might begin by the end of 2011.

“That’s the best case scenario, everything’s moving, everything’s approved,” he said. “All that of course is contingent on what the economy looks like as well.”

Wilson Meany Sullivan, along with San Francisco real estate group Stockbridge Real Estate Funds, bought Hollywood Park from Churchill Downs in 2005 for $260 million.

imageThe Hollywood Park Tomorrow project, which was approved by the Inglewood City Council in July of 2009, would transform the 238-acre site at the corner of Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard into a complex of offices, shops and nearly 3,000 homes.

The plan also calls for a 300-room hotel, 25 acres of park space and a renovation to the Hollywood Park Casino.

“I think it will be good for the city, good for the families,” said Antonio Romero, an Inglewood resident who visits Hollywood Park weekly to bet on the horse races. “Even if I have to drive a little bit farther [to go to a different track], that’s okay.”

McCallum said the new development will benefit the city financially, increasing tax revenue for Inglewood and creating an estimated 19,000 jobs. About 3,000 of those jobs will be permanent retail positions, with the rest being short-term construction work.

“The city did a fiscal impact study and found that because of declining revenue and declining attendance at the track, the taxes that were taken by the city were dramatically declining,” McCallum said. “So the city was already looking for alternative uses for the land.”

The city of Inglewood did not have a copy of the fiscal impact study on hand but the developers’ presentation to the Inglewood City Council in January of 2008 projected the city’s tax revenue from the Hollywood Park site would nearly triple from 2007 to 2016, the projected completion date for the development.

According to the report, the city grossed over $7.8 million in tax revenue from the property in 2008. The developers project that number to swell to $20.9 million in 2016.

Mooney acknowledged that track attendance is declining but said that the handle, or total money bet, continues to increase. The track averaged 6,111 people per day in 2009, a modest number for the track that drew a record average of 34,516 people in 1965. The handle, though, peaked in 2008 at an average of over $11.8 million before falling back to nearly $10.5 million in 2009.

“Since the legislation of inter-city, inter-track betting and the expansion to internet betting, we don’t get the same people at our track but our handle has grown over all those years,” Mooney said. “I would say racing is a game in transition and coupled with the tough economy, it’s a difficult period right now.”

While the total amount bet may be higher, Hollywood Park’s revenue is down because the race track gets a lower percentage of off track bets than on track. Of the nearly $10.5 million per day bet at Hollywood Park in 2009, less than 14 percent came from on track betting.

imageMooney and McCallum both said the Hollywood Park Casino would continue to offer off-track betting opportunities to their patrons.

“It’s a sign of the times,” said Bobby Slatin, who frequents Hollywood Park. “Horseracing is a dying sport and Hollywood Park has gone way down. This will be a nice place to have some memories.”

Hollywood Park began racing in 1938, when Jack L. Warner of Warner Bros. was the chairman of the Hollywood Turf Club. Many Hollywood actors and directors were original shareholders of the track, including Walt Disney and Bing Crosby.

In 1938, the legendary horse Seabiscuit won the inaugural running of the Hollywood Gold Cup, the track’s signature race.

Throughout its history, Hollywood Park has been a pioneer of the horse racing industry, inventing the exacta bet (picking the first and second place horses) in 1971, being the first track to average a $4 million daily handle in 1997 and hosting the inaugural Breeders Cup—which was watched by an estimated 50 million viewers—in 1984.

“This has been here for so long,” said Troy Montgomery, a regular at the racetrack. “It’s gonna feel like something’s missing.”

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Save Hollywood Park, Smart Destinations

Missing paperwork saves loan company from closure

imageA payday advance business operating in Inglewood for nearly a decade without a permit faced closure for the violation – until the city was unable to find its own copy of the company’s business license.

The business, Cash ‘N Run, which is located less than half a mile from City Hall, had operated without the permit for almost ten years when a city employee eating at a restaurant next door went in and asked to see the permit.

Owner Bob Altieri said he pays for his business license every year but he didn’t know that he needed a special use permit to operate a payday advance business.

The Inglewood Planning Committee denied Altieri’s request for the permit, but the City Council overturned that decision in late February after the city staff was unable to find their copy of the company’s business license.

Without their copy of the original business license, city council members said they couldn’t do anything but side with the owner.

“This is not a good sign about how we find documents,” Councilman Eloy Morales said. “It would be unfair if we were to say we messed up so we’ll go back and take [Cash ‘N Run] out.”

Councilman Ralph Franklin wondered during the meeting how the city didn’t know until now that Cash ‘N Run didn’t have the correct permit.

“This is the same business that has renewed its license for ten years,” Franklin said.

Altieri was visibly relieved after his appeal was granted. “I would have gone and got it back then,” Altieri said. “Nothing was done intentionally.”

In order to operate a payday advance business in Inglewood, the city requires the owner to buy, and be approved for, a special use permit. Although Morales said he and his colleagues on the city council “are not fans” of the payday advances, Inglewood has approved 15 special use permits for these type of businesses since 1998.

Altieri, who owns similar businesses in Santa Monica, Torrance and Los Angeles, said he purchased a permit for a onetime fee of $1180 after the city council approved his appeal.

“It’s not a real tight ship here,” Altieri said about the Inglewood city government. “They don’t even know what businesses are in the community.”

The appeal at the city council meeting spurred talk among the council members and citizens about whether the payday advances are good for the city of Inglewood.

California allows payday advance businesses but imposes restrictions on how much they can loan to borrowers.

Altieri loans a maximum of $255 to customers and then collects $300 two weeks later – an interest rate of more than 17 percent.

“If their check comes the 15th and their tire blows on the 10th, what are they going to do?” Altieri asked. “I provide a service to the community.”

Some Inglewood residents attending the council meeting disagreed, saying the payday advances only create debt that the borrowers can’t pay back.

“It is nothing more than a vicious cycle that preys on the poor citizens,” said LeRoy Fisher. “They put families in a terrible position with the cycle that they can never get out of paying.”

Another resident said the blame lies with the borrowers themselves.

“If there was no demand for these businesses, they wouldn’t be here,” said Ray Davis, who regularly attends council meetings. “We’ve become addicted to debt and we spend more than we make.”

Further reading: The Los Angeles Times: Payday lenders may avoid U.S. oversight