No plans to close ‘Big A’ right now

No plans to close ‘Big A’ right now
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Bianca Fortis

The Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park will not be shutting down anytime soon, a spokesman for the New York Racing Association said.

The Albany Times Union reported last month that NYRA was considering closing the horse racing facility.

But when asked about the report, Eric Wing, a NYRA spokesman, said flatly Tuesday “there are no plans to close Aqueduct.”

NYRA board members and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), however, have both said the closure is one idea being considered in order to make the association financially sustainable.

At an Aug. 28 meeting of the NYRA reorganization board, Chief Executive Officer Christoper Kay said he hoped to develop a plan by next year to make NYRA a private business again, the newspaper reported.

Board members discussed ways to increase revenues and lower expenses. Finance Committee Chairman Stuart Subotnick brought up the possibility of closing the racetrack.

He said a decision to close it had not been made at that time, but the future of the track still was unclear.

He said funds allocated for upgrades at Aqueduct should be spent wisely in case assets are later moved to Belmont Park or Saratoga Race Course, the two other racetracks NYRA operates.

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer also considered closing the “Big A” in 2007 and selling the property to developers, but pushback by the community, led by then-state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer halted that proposal.

In May 2012 Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would establish the NYRA Reorganization Board, placing the organization temporarily under public control with the goal of reforming it. Addabbo addressed the newest concerns at a recent Community Board 10 meeting.

Addabbo, a member of the Senate Racing, Gaming & Wagering Committee, said the revenue from Resorts World Casino has saved the racetrack for the time being, but NYRA is still in significant “fiscal trouble.”

“They’re looking at a host of ideas,” he said. “One of them, as was mentioned, is the closing of Aqueduct. Do I think it happens tomorrow? No. Do I think that NYRA concentrates on Saratoga and Belmont more than Aqueduct? Yes.”

Funds that were supposed to be used at Aqueduct for capital improvements were not, Addabbo said.

The senator said that should the racetrack close, he would not approve any plans for its replacement unless they benefited the community.

“It has to be something that’s amenable to the community and its residents,” he said. “The racing is revenue for the city and state. It creates jobs — something, for me, that is a priority.”

Addabbo said he has heard mention of replacing the racetrack with housing, something he will not necessarily support.

“I have nothing against the need for housing, but we already have overcrowded schools,” he said. “We have an aging sewer system that can’t handle the floods and rain we already have. So development would be a concern.”

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.

RETRACTION AND CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article stated that the New York Racing Association’s former president and CEO Charles Hayward and general counsel Patrick Kehoe “were ousted for overcharging bettors and pocketing more than $8 million.” Mssrs. Hayward and Kehoe were fired following a report alleging that they knew bettors were overcharged more than $8 million but failed to take action. There were no allegations, however, that they themselves overcharged the bettors or personally pocketed the money. The TimesLedger regrets the error.