VIGL, the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack developer, proposes to reduce its original plan for the track. The proposal ran into criticism from horse owners and officials at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Coastal Zone Management Committee public hearing Thursday.
The proposed reduction of seating in the grandstand from 3,600 to 1,200 received the most criticism. However, the placement of a quarantine barn near other barns and a lack of an aggressive mitigation plan to stop the erosion of the shoreline also received negative attention from residents at the hearing.
The shoreline is estimated to be about 250 feet from the racetrack. Arial photos shown at the hearing confirmed that the shore has been losing ground dramatically since 1950.
Benjamin Keularts, an environmental consultant who led the VIGL presentation, said the developers would be closely watching the shoreline, gathering data about what happened there over the next year, and installing cameras on the shoreline. Keularts indicated that some of the erosion in previous years might have been caused by operations of the St. Croix refinery, which was located just a few miles east of the racetrack on the South Shore.
This was not good enough for some of the horsemen at the hearing. One said that he believed the shoreline would be infringing on the racetrack within ten years. Committee member Kai Nielsen indicated that he thought it was imperative that the developers concern themselves with what was happening on the shoreline.
The modified proposal for the racetrack has the grandstand which was originally proposed to be three stories at two stories.
Keularts said the lower number of seats in the grandstand would be made up with more public standing spaces. He added that in this post-COVID period, there would be room for people to space themselves out around the new party and food pavilions and they could bring their own chairs. A speaker at the hearing said residents traveling from other islands would not want to carry a chair. Another speaker said COVID was history and did not need to be a focus of this plan.
Much discussion at the hearing concerned what attendance would be at races and other events. Speakers said that at times as many as 7,000 people were at the track in earlier times, but the proposal was only leaving room for about 4,000 people. The project site is located at Section 5 Estate Manning Bay, St. Croix.
VIGL, in its application for the modifications, stated, “Due to the change of landscape since the permit issuance in relation to construction costs and COVID-related slowdowns to the gaming industry, VIGL determined that the current design would not present the same economical return expected as with this revised, reduced and more efficient design …. and this modified design will prove a much more economical facility that would be more resilient to market changes.”
The application also stated that VIGL could be hiring up to 230 full-time employees at the facility.
Speakers at the hearing indicated that, though they had problems with the new proposal, they were for the project.
The applications can be found at the DPNR-CZM website.
Residents can still make comments on the project by emailing email@example.com by May 25.