Thursday, January 26, 2023

Harness racetrack is proposed in Plymouth

A new harness racing track in Plymouth Township is apparently at the starting gate as plans were expected to be submitted to the planning commission this week.

According to township records, representatives of Northville Downs submitted a check for $5,600 for four application fees and another check for $9,100 to be placed in escrow as plans for the $25 million project are reviewed by members of the planning commission. Approval by the planning commission would send the project to the township board of trustees for consideration.

The racetrack is proposed at a 128-acre site near Five Mile and Ridge Road. The site was formerly designated as the Ridge Five Corporate Park, but no development took place and the site is now vacant land. Only 52 acres of the site are suitable for building as the remainder is protected wetlands, according to township records.

Plymouth Township Building Department Coordinator Cheri Palmachuk confirmed that the conceptual plans for the sulky racing track would be on the Feb. 15 planning commission agenda. She said the plans would be on file and publicly accessible on the second floor at Plymouth Township Hall and that the plans would also be available on the township planning commission website for public review.

The Northville Downs property was sold to Hunter Pasteur in 2018 for a multi-million-dollar development which will include retail, office, condominiums and luxury homes, along with a park and the daylighting of the river in downtown Northville. Racing at the Northville Downs track has continued as plans for the major development move through the approval process in the City of Northville. 

The plans for the Plymouth site include construction of a half-mile oval harness racetrack; a two-story, 4,900-square- foot grandstand with a patio for viewing; a 23,000-square-foot racing building; a 35,000 square foot horse barn and a 3,200 square foot maintenance building. In addition, plans include a 54,000-square-foot gaming facility to be constructed during a future phase of development. Any casino or racino gambling would require state approval.

The plans to seek casino or racino gambling permits have been questioned by Township Trustee John Stewart, who said he is not sure such plans will meet with success in the current social and political environment.

“It appears that Supervisor (Kurt) Heise and Gary Heitman have worked for months to put this together at Five Mile and Ridge. It is the only harness racing track that will be in Michigan. I think there needs to be a lot of oversite because the future would appear to be casino/racino gambling which must be passed by our state Legislature.” 

Heise, however, is enthusiastic about the potential “community partnership” with the racetrack.

“We're flattered that Northville Downs would consider us. I know they looked at other locations,” Heise said. He added that the track owners would be “treated like any other developer.” Heise said he was optimistic that the township could come to an agreement with Northville Downs to use the large infield space at the proposed track for community events, such as the former 4th of July celebration in the township, sporting events, soccer and  car shows. “Things that would benefit the community,” he said.

Heise said he was hoping the track could become a recreational asset to the township and said he was confident a mutually beneficial agreement could be negotiated with the track owners.

Stewart, however, said while he would probably vote yes on the project, “to allow them to try” he had serious concerns about the drain on township public safety services and other costs that might not be covered by the fees generated by the track. 

Those fees would include breakage fees from betting at the track calculated as the difference in cents between the winning payouts and the nearest dime or nickel in a minus pool situation. If a winning bet is computed to pay $3.12 then the bettor receives $3.10. The breakage of 2 cents is deposited into a fund distributed to the municipality where the track is located. State records report that Northville received $113,501 in breakage fees in 2020 and $214,203 in 2021.