06/20/2002 11:00PM

Churchill delays renovation funding


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The board of directors of Churchill Downs Inc. deferred action on the second phase of the track's massive renovation at its quarterly meeting Thursday. The move was dictated by uncertainty in how the track's tax status will be addressed by Kentucky state government by the end of the month.

Michael Ogburn, Churchill's director of investor relations, said Friday that the board determined that approval of funding of the second phase of renovation, which is expected to be about $100 million of the approximately $130 million cost of the 2 1/2-year project, "will have to wait until public and other financing arrangements are in place."

When the project was unveiled last year, Churchill officials said they hoped that the financial details would be finalized this month.

The major stumbling block is an annual tax break of about $1 million that Churchill receives from the state. An ongoing budget impasse in the state capital is jeopardizing the tax break. July 1 is the deadline for the legislature to reconvene to address that and other issues, but news reports this week have said the chances of that happening are dubious at best.

Ogburn said a secondary consideration in tabling the funding issue was that architects and engineers are "doing some refinement" of the design aspect of the second phase, which is tentatively scheduled to begin next summer.

Meanwhile, the initial stage of the renovation is progressing as planned. The entire project is scheduled to be finished in time for the 2005 Kentucky Derby.