Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hollywood Park is dead. So belittle the trainers and blame the Indians.

The Inglewood City Council on Wednesday approved both a final environmental impact report and a "significant land use revision" that just about drive the last nails in the coffin of Hollywood Park, a California racing institution since 1938.

The property will be turned into a 238-acre mixed-use development.

Three trainers -- John Shirreffs, Jack Van Berg and Kathy Walsh -- are to be commended for speaking up on behalf of the track and the hundreds if not thousands of people employed at, or in connection with, the facility. They also brought up the track's history. Not that anyone was going to be convinced.

"Hollywood Park can't race five days a week," said Councilman Ralph L. Franklin, according to The Blood-Horse. Franklin was noting the track had reduced dates due to lack of horse inventory. "There is a need for us to make a change."

So go on and bulldoze the place, Mr. Franklin. A devastatingly permanent solution to a horse-shortage that is certainly a temporary problem.

Most residents who spoke were in favor of the demolition and reinvention of the property, a plan developers Wilson Meany Sullivan have called "Hollywood Park Tomorrow," which, translated, means "To Hell with Hollywood Park."

Please don't patronize racing supporters by tearing down history and acting like the completely unrelated development is in some way paying homage to the landmark you destroyed.

Van Berg pleaded with the council not to give away an industry with such history.

"There's nothing to compare with it," he said. "Inglewood lost the Lakers and the Kings. The track is something that draws people to the city."

Wilson Meany Sullivan is an affiliate of Stockbridge Capital Partners, which owns Bay Meadows Land Co. (A triumvirate so established and successful that it appears two of their three Web sites are still under construction.)

Walsh made the pertinent point that Bay Meadows Land Co. secured similar permission from the city of San Mateo to raze another iconic racetrack. Now Bay Meadows Racecourse is just a pile of rubble, she noted, while BMLC has put its plans for that property on indefinite hold.

"I think it would be a shame to drive down Century or Manchester," Walsh said, naming the roads that border Hollywood Park, "and see four or five piles of rubble."

Since the truth hurts, a representative of the developers fired back at Walsh with at best a half-truth, and one that shows BMLC, et. al., might not really appreciate what they're killing in Hollywood Park.

"Let me acknowledge our friends and associates in the horse racing business. I understand they have nowhere to direct their anger," said Christopher Meany, I can somehow imagine in a tone as condescending as the words read. "Let me remind you that horse racing is in decline in California for reasons that have little to do with what we do here tonight. Horse racing is in decline in California because of the rise of Native American gaming facilities in the state."

I find that difficult to believe. I know horseplayers; lots of them. I know casino-goers; quite a few. While the camps aren't mutually exclusive, I don't believe they cross-over as much as people might have us think. Yeah, some handicappers also play poker or blackjack (or some other casino game). But most are not, particularly, slots-players -- the style of wagering is entirely different, with one (horseplaying) taking considerable forethought and the other being essentially brainless.

And if casinos are what's killing Hollywood Park, then invite the Indians over. There's precedent that just about any piece of property in which a recognized "landless" tribe has a stake in California can be developed for gaming. Why not give some tribe a cut of the action from a potential "racino" at Hollywood Park?

Meany repeated the mantra that there aren't enough horses in California to race five days at Hollywood. Like horses don't breed new baby horses when we put mommies and daddies together in the same place while nature does its magic. And as if the breeding and racing businesses won't pick back up when this recession is put to rest. When Hollywood Park canceled a date on April 30 for a shortage of horses, it cited the recession limiting the number of horses in training. Again, a recession isn't a permanent problem, so why pursue a permanent solution?

It never ceases to amaze me when city councils, developers and others get together to infringe upon or outright tear down history -- whether it's a racetrack, a Civil War battlefield, an old school, a neighborhood of historic homes, or what have you -- to replace it with buildings that in 25 or 30 years all too often become outdated in appearance or amenities, or have fallen by the wayside as population shifts and even-newer facilities draw shoppers and businesspeople elsewhere. Then the shopping centers and office complexes that seemed like such a great idea not that long ago, such that a place like Hollywood Park would be obliterated for them, are themselves razed to pave the way for somebody else's "forward-thinking" development plan that'll be dated and dying in less than a generation.

I'm not dead-certain I'll live long enough to see that happen to significant chunks of "Hollywood Park Tomorrow."

But I'd bet it if I could get 5/2 or better.

1 comment:

  1. I could not agree more with you. California does not another shopping mall and that town will more of a trash pit than it already is.

    This is one of the reasons I am glad Colonial Downs was set up where it was. Urban areas are becoming very hostile towards race tracks.


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