05/14/2004 12:00AM

First phase of renovation gets rolling


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Gulfstream Park has begun work on a major renovation project that will dramatically change the look of the facility, beginning with the 2005 racing season.

Construction crews have already bulldozed the turf course and main track and are in the final stages of preparing the grandstand for demolition. Also scheduled to be demolished within the next several weeks are the the racing secretary's office, the paddock, and 18 barns, which run the entire length of the backstretch.

"We have secured all the permits necessary, except the final demolition permits," said Gulfstream president Scott Savin. "It's a massive job, but we are confident the initial phase of the project will be completed on time for the 2005 meet."

The board of directors for Magna Entertainment Corporation has approved a budget of $120 million for the project, which is not scheduled to be completed until 2006. Plans call for the existing clubhouse and grandstand to be removed to make room for a new 1 1/8-mile main track and the addition of a second turf course. A 300,000-square-foot air-conditioned clubhouse will be constructed during the second phase of the project, but won't be completed in time for the 2005 meeting, which will be run under temporary quarters.

Savin said the barns will be torn down next week. The main building will be slowly dismantled and is not expected to be completely down until the middle of June.

"Seeding the old dirt track will take place in July and is one of our main priorities, so the second turf course will be available for the 2005 season," Savin said. "We will be using a new hybrid type of grass, which has incredible resiliency and an 11-day rejuvenation time. We'll also be raising the main track and the turf course two to three feet above sea level to improve drainage, which has been a major problem for us in recent years."

Savin said the 2005 meeting will be held as scheduled using tents and other temporary structures, which will run from the head of the stretch to between the eighth and sixteenth poles. The area directly in front of the finish line will remain a construction site, much like the one that currently exists at Churchill Downs. Savin also said that the majority of the 18 barns being removed to make room for the new main track will be replaced several hundred yards farther east of their current location.

"We'll lose stall space for approximately 200 horses as a result of the project," said Savin.

Savin also said the Gulfstream Park concert series, which has been criticized by horsemen and many regular patrons since its inception several years ago, will be suspended at least for the 2005 meeting.

"We plan to open a picnic-type entertainment area near the head of the stretch to create a Saratoga and Del Mar-like atmosphere to the place," said Savin. "The feasibility of the concert series will be reviewed again before the 2006 meeting."