07/31/2012 10:27AM

Churchill Downs: $9 million renovation will transform sixth floor into a Southern-style mansion


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Churchill Downs officials on Tuesday revealed details for the new deluxe seating concept that will be built in the sixth-floor space that has served as the Joe Hirsch Media Center and the Gold Room for high-volume horseplayers since the track underwent a massive renovation completed in 2005.

“The Mansion,” as it is being called, will attempt to mimic a lavish southern-style mansion replete with amenities such as a dining room with a gourmet chef, a library, a private bar, and a private elevator, not to mention a balcony that affords a spectacular finish-line view of the racetrack.

“This space will be unlike any other in sports,” Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery said at a media briefing in the Joe Hirsch Media Center, where he formally introduced plans for the Mansion. He also announced several other renovation plans in conjunction with the Mansion, all at a cost of $9  million.

The new projects are scheduled to begin in the coming days and to be complete in time for the 2013 Kentucky Oaks and Derby next May. Flanery estimated the Mansion will recoup a sizable portion of its cost in the first three years of operation and will seat at least 320 people, with “customized” seating costs that would vary by a number of factors that he declined to specifiy. The seats would cost “in the thousands,” he said. One media outlet reported a range of $9,000 to $12,500 per seat per year, with a minimum three-year commitment.

“We don’t have unlimited space and acreage,” said Flanery. “When we set about doing a project, we ask, ‘How can we best utilize the space that we have?’ ”

Aside from space considerations, Flanery said “great demand for seats, tables, suites, and boxes” was among the factors that led track officials to initiate the changes. He spoke at length about the “new world” that places a premium on entertainment, food, fashion, and service.

Starting with the upcoming fall meet, working media will be relocated to a soon-to-be-renovated building that has no live view of the racetrack and had until recently been the corporate offices of Churchill Downs Inc., which are now located in the east end of Louisville. Credentialed media will be permitted to watch races live from third-floor boxes in the grandstand.

Members of the Gold Room will be relocated to the second-floor Champions room, which also will undergo extensive renovation.

The upper level of the current facility from which the track announcer and racing officials work, including the stewards, will remain unaffected.

Flanery also announced that the Paddock Pavilion, a defunct facility that has served little purpose in recent years, will be razed to create an open gathering space of some 30,000 additional square feet that will better serve the huge crowds on Kentucky Derby and Oaks Days, and other major events. “We need more leisure space in the paddock area,” said Flanery. “We need more space where people can enjoy themselves.”

This will be yet the latest modernization of the 137-year-old facility at Churchill, which underwent major renovations in the mid-1980s and from 2003-05. The track also installed a permanent lights system in 2010. Officials estimated they have invested $150 million in their flagship facility within the last decade.