11/09/2005 1:00AM

Renovation will last beyond opener

Brendan Dillon
Facing a Jan. 4 deadline, a construction crew works on the Gulfstream paddock and grandstand this week.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Gulfstream Park will be a work in progress during most of the 2006 meeting, which opens on Jan. 4.

Before Hurricane Wilma struck the local area on Oct. 24, Gulfstream Park's president, Scott Savin, had predicted the entire facility would be ready opening day. On Monday, Savin admitted that only part of the new building will be available for occupancy by then.

"Wilma caused only minimal damage to the building but cost us a full two weeks, 14 work days, due to power issues and a workforce that was decimated due to the storm," Savin said. "We'd already lost one week due to damage incurred during Hurricane Katrina. But if not for Wilma we were confident all public areas would have been ready for the opener."

Savin said that Gulfstream's owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., has a commitment from Suitt Construction Co. to deliver by opening day the entire first floor of the four-floor building, including two food courts and the paddock, as well as 900 stadium-style seats on the second, or club, level. The Jumbotron tote board, which was demolished during Wilma, is also expected to be repaired and operational by opening day. Unlike last year, there will be no tents or other temporary facilities.

"We'll phase in the rest of the building as we go along," said Savin. "Work will continue seven days a week throughout the meet, even while racing is being conducted."

Savin said the second phase of construction is the Ten Palms dining room, a 1,200-seat facility that runs the length of the clubhouse. The opening of the dining room is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of Jan. 28, which coincides with the Sunshine Million Stakes card. After that, the third and fourth floors of the grandstand will be completed.

Savin said the press box would be completed by opening day but that only "essential personnel" - the stewards, placing judges, the track announcer, and the Teletimer operator - will be allowed in the press box for at least the first month of the meet because of ongoing construction in the area. The media will work out of the stadium seats on the Club level until access to the press box is available. Savin also said 360 of the 900 seats on that level will be reserved for horsemen.

"Naturally everybody is disappointed we won't be 100 percent ready by opening day," said Savin. "We are in crisis management from this point on with eight weeks to get ready, but we're confident we'll be set to go and able to accommodate up to 8,000 patrons on opening day."

The Gulfstream Park grandstand was demolished at the conclusion of the 2004 racing season as part of a total track renovation scheduled to be completed by the start of the 2006 meet. Races during last year's meet were run on a new main track and turf course, and several new barns were added to the backstretch. Bettors were housed under temporary structures, including several large tents that served as the grandstand and dining facility.

"We still feel the experience here will be a positive one here starting Jan. 4 and will only get better as the meet progresses," said Savin. "It won't be difficult as long as the public knows what it's getting and knows what to expect. We'll have a soft opening just like last year and within three to five weeks should be fully operational."

Savin said that among the amenities in the new building will be a poker room similar to the one in operation at Calder.

"We plan to operate a poker room as soon as we are open on the second level," said Savin. "We believe we need to offer every entertainment amenity we can, and obviously poker is a hot item now."

The barn area, which sustained little damage during Hurricane Wilma, will open as scheduled on Nov. 16.