Updated on 09/16/2011 8:33AM

Grandstand first to get an overhaul

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The ongoing grandstand renovation at Churchill Downs is part of the track's $120-million overhaul.

For someone returning to the Churchill Downs backstretch after a lengthy absence, the view can be startling. Just across the way, the ancient grandstand of this historic track in Louisville, Ky., is under major renovation, with towers, cranes, and new construction piercing the sky.

The sweeping changes are products of a $120 million project that, when finished in the spring of 2005, will be the most ambitious and costly in Churchill's 128-year history. The massive project is not quite as breathtaking from the frontside, where people who have been coming to Churchill for generations will once again return Sunday for the 30-day fall meet.

The construction, which began last December, "shouldn't be a problem for fans during the fall meet," said Churchill vice president John Asher. "There's actually not a lot of changes from the spring that customers should notice."

Indeed, with the old grandstand being the first section to go, the area in which fans will be confined throughout the meet will be the spacious clubhouse, which thus far has gone virtually untouched. Next summer, the clubhouse will be leveled and overhauled when phase two begins.

In the meantime, Churchill has begun the selling of some 60 sky suites, one of the signature features of the track's new look. Asher said interest is high from prospective buyers, some of whom attended an unveiling of the suites earlier this month. Asher said some of the suites may actually be completed in time for the 129th Kentucky Derby in May.

"Response has been strong," he said. "There are a lot of across-the-board folks inquiring about them, people in the business community and otherwise. We've been taking calls and making a list. This is new territory for us going in, but we're really encouraged."

Other features that eventually will become part of Churchill include expanded Turf Club facilities, a new Millionaire's Row and Skye Terrace, new indoor and outdoor seating, new dining rooms, simulcasting areas within the main building, new elevators and escalators, expanded restroom facilities, and a new press box.

Yet for now, the show will go on at the fall meet, which runs through Nov. 30.

"It should be pretty much business as usual," said Asher.