06/27/2007 11:00PM

New York weighs Aqueduct development


New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer acknowledged for the first time this week that the sale and development of Aqueduct racetrack in Queens is being contemplated as part of the process to award the racing and slot-machine franchise held by the New York Racing Association.

Earlier this week, Spitzer said that his office was considering the development of the 192-acre property during a meeting with the editorial board of the New York Daily News. On Wednesday, a spokesman for Spitzer, Paul Larabee, confirmed the substance of the comments but also said that any development of Aqueduct was being viewed within the larger context of a complete evaluation of how racing should be conducted in New York.

In the Daily News interview, Spitzer said: "Whether or not you have racing at Aqueduct, you have an enormous piece of land there that can and should be used for some other things. That's a remarkably valuable piece of land from a public perspective."

Officials in Spitzer's office had not previously publicly acknowledged that they had supported a discussion of the closing of Aqueduct.

Aqueduct is one of three tracks operated by the New York Racing Association under a franchise agreement that expires at the end of this year. If Aqueduct were to close, Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., on Long Island would need to be converted to an all-weather facility if racing were to continue to be conducted year-round in the state.

Aqueduct is also the only racetrack operated by NYRA that is allowed to operate slot machines. The track has been tentatively authorized for 4,500 of the machines, but the state has not yet formally approved any plans for a casino at the site.

NYRA officials would not comment specifically on the proposal this week. On Wednesday, John Lee, a spokesman for NYRA, said that the association's officials had not developed an opinion on the proposal because the plan had not yet been discussed in any detailed way.

"Obviously it's a very complex issue," said Lee. "It's hard to envision. And we don't know when the details will be worked out, or if they will be worked out, so we would need to see a detailed proposal before we would comment."

Officials of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association also approached the proposal cautiously this week.

"Naturally, horsemen are always concerned when it looks like there might be a serious change in the landscape," said Richard Violette, the president of the horsemen's association, on Wednesday. "Something like this might have huge implications for racing days, purses, the location where we're racing and training, and we would like to offer all the input we can in any discussion like that."

Violette said, however, that the horsemen have not been consulted or included in any discussion with Spitzer's office about the redevelopment plan.

Development of Aqueduct could take a number of forms, according to Spitzer, including a convention center or a stand-alone casino. The property abuts John F. Kennedy Airport and has its own subway stop.

Larabee stressed that the development plan is only an "issue for discussion."

Larabee said, "For the first time in 50 years, we have a chance to evaluate racing in New York, and that just doesn't include the racing that happens at the tracks, it's also the chance to look at the assets and think about other ways in which they could be used."