“You never like to lose an industry that’s been around 100 years,” Grove City Manager Chuck Boso said. “It’s an opportunity to redevelop our downtown.”
Toledo’s track wound up part of the racino operation in North Dayton, Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway. Lebanon’s moved outside of town to land near Interstate 75 in Turtlecreek Twp., as Miami Valley Gaming, while Grove City’s wound up outside Youngstown as Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley.
Recently, racetrack redevelopment work has been visible along Broadway in Lebanon. In addition to the bank project, the city has a “shovel ready” former city garage site ready for redevelopment. Work also has begun at the Warren County Fairgrounds, where new wrought-iron fencing is the first sign of redevelopment at the former site of Lebanon Raceway.
The county had hoped to attract a microbrewery or corporate headquarters to land on the fairgrounds property.
“That’s just not panning out,” County Commissioner Pat South said.
Instead, the county plans to use the state funds — as well as other funds from the racino operators — to help subsidize a range of improvements to the fairgrounds, including changes establishing it as an exposition center.
The state funds are reimbursed to the cities through a process administered by Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA).
Toledo has begun demolition of the foundations, slabs and asphalt left from the former Northtowne Mall to prepare the site for redevelopment. In an agreement already approved by the state, the Ann Arbor Railroad commits $5 million to the project. Racetrack redevelopment funds would cover another other $2.5 million.
“Without the racetrack redevelopment grant, this project may not have happened,” Ann Arbor’s parent company, the Watco Cos., said.
ODSA has already approved a plan to use racetrack redevelopment funds to transform the former Raceway Park track complex into an automobile distribution center to be operated by Ann Arbor and employ 50 workers.
“The Ohio Development Services Agency is committed to creating jobs and building strong communities, while ensuring accountability and transparency of taxpayer money and exceptional customer service,” Stephanie Gostomski, public information officer for ODSA, said in a statement.
So far, Toledo’s project with Ann Arbor is the best in terms of job creation.
Toledo is aiming higher. It wants the short-line railroad operator to move its headquarters from Michigan to Toledo to be closer to the distribution facility.
“We’re hoping that’s what’s going to come of it,” Toledo City Manager Bill Burkett said.
Grove City City Council approved a plan with Falco, Smith & Kelley to build the proposed residential development, also to include about 15 acres for commercial development, on the former Beulah Park site.
Grove City’s plan also calls for rerouting a stream, building a trail and extending a road connecting the former racetrack site and an adjoining neighborhood to a revitalized downtown.
The $432,000 road extension from the racetrack site to downtown Grove City is already underway.
Next month, the city expects to hire a contractor to demolish the old track complex.
The rest of the construction isn’t expected to begin until next year.
The redevelopment funds are small compared to the numbers posted by the state's seven racinos, which reported $831 million in revenue last year.
In December 2015 alone, Miami Valley Gaming reported more than $11.1 million in revenue, Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway $7.5 million.
Penn National will pay $150 million over 10 years into the state’s track-relocation fund for moving its harness racing tracks from Toledo to Dayton and from Grove City to Austintown — $6 million going to Toledo and Grove City.
The racino locations were the result of negotiations between officials at the state and local levels with existing and aspiring operators.
While outside their corporate limits - and taxing jurisdictions - all three cities have gambling operations nearby, providing employment and entertainment options for residents.
Miami Valley Gaming is just west of Lebanon in neighboring Turtlecreek Twp. Columbus, north of Grove City, features Scioto Downs Racino and Hollywood Casino Columbus.
Toledo’s loss was Dayton’s gain, with Penn National re-establishing and expanding the gambling business previously operating at Raceway Park in Toledo off Needmore Road in Dayton.
“The ability to move from Toledo to Dayton came with that $3 million tag,” Burkett said.
While left without a racino, Toledo has a gambling business, Hollywood Casino Toledo, also operated by Penn National.
“We didn’t lose gambling altogether. We lost a horse track,” Burkett said.