12/31/2005 12:00AM

Savin: For now, go to Calder


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - As construction crews work overtime trying to ready the new state-of-the-art Gulfstream Park grandstand for the opening of the 2006 season on Wednesday, track president Scott Savin has the following advice for patrons: "Go to Calder!"

The only portions of the new building that are expected to be available for occupancy by opening day are half of the ground floor, a 900-seat section on the second floor, and the seating area around the walking ring in the rear of the building. As a result, Savin and his colleagues at Magna Entertainment Corporation are hoping to take advantage of an agreement signed last month with Churchill Downs Inc. that will allow the nearby Churchill-owned Calder Race Course to remain open throughout the winter for a simulcasting program that includes wagering on Gulfstream's races.

Despite having limited space for patrons, the opening will go on as scheduled on Wednesday, Savin said.

"We've come a long way against a lot of adversity and we still have some issues and obstacles to overcome, but we believe they can all be met, and so we're definitely looking to run on Jan. 4," Savin said. "But we are trying to be very open and honest with our patrons, and if they are expecting perfection, the best advice we can give is to tell them to go to Calder for the next few weeks. The worst thing you can do in this or any other business is to disappoint your customers."

Savin admitted Gulfstream will have "capacity issues" when it does open Wednesday and throughout the first three to four weeks of the meet. To help ease the burden on the limited area that will be available in the grandstand, a temporary structure has been erected just north of the building and will offer fans a place to watch and wager on the live races.

"Right now we don't even know what the true capacity will be on opening day," said Savin. "What we do know is that Calder can guarantee the betting public all the amenities they need to bet on our races, so there really is no reason to come here right now other than for the curiosity factor. The one thing I can guarantee is that things will get better every day, and if all goes according to plan we should have the entire building open and operational by the middle of February."