Detroit – Horse racing fans in Michigan, take a tight hold of those reins.
Northville Downs is changing in a big way.
A housing developer has purchased the last track in Michigan, it announced Tuesday.
But the owners of the track said harness racing and simulcast wagering will continue through 2020 at the site, where horses have run since 1944, when they took over for a nine-hole golf course established at Center Street and Seven Mile Road by the early 1900s.
“We are in the process of exploring multiple other locations to develop a first-class, state-of-the-art racing and gaming facility that Michigan will be proud of,” said Mike Carlo, operations manager and co-owner Northville Downs.
But Carlo made clear the track is also still seeking some of the enhanced gambling instruments, like the casino gaming, that some states permit in tracks.
“We will continue to work closely with state and local representatives to implement the necessary changes that other states around us have, so we can bring racing back to its finest day,” Carlo said.
Just days after the death knell sounded for thoroughbred racing in Michigan, with the closing of Hazel Park Raceway, Hunter Pasteur Homes announced Tuesday it has realized what fans at the last horse racing track in the state have long discussed: The property at Northville Downs, reportedly one of the more-prized parcels in all of Metro Detroit, probably has been worth more than the racing for a long time.
The “luxury home builder” said it purchased all 48 acres, in the long-desirable town.
“Operations at Northville Downs will continue as usual until site development begins,” Hunter Pasteur said, in a media release.
“Northville Downs is actively pursuing the continuation of its horse racing and wagering operations at an area in close proximity to its current location.”
Horse owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and others who make their livelihood in racing said they will be devastated by the loss of Hazel Park Raceway.
After 69 years, that track became the ninth in Michigan to close in the last 20 years.
Northville Downs is the last track standing, for an equine industry in the state long in decline.
Some owners and breeders said that the loss of Hazel Park would likely mean the end of their businesses, or desperate attempts to transport some horses out of state.
The loss of the harness racing that occurs at Northville Downs would only further the demise, and might seal the fate of horse racing in Michigan.
Horse racing has been in decline since other forms of legal and illegal betting became more popular, including the drastic increase in the popularity of the NFL in the 1950s and, later, state-sanctioned lotteries and casinos.
Horse racing participants have long complained that the casino industry received preferential treatment from state and municipal governments, in Michigan, and in other states.
Plans, yet to be approved, for the land include “mixed-use development, 500-600 units of high-end rental apartments and single-family homes,” according to Hunter Pasteur.
Spokespersons declined to discuss financial terms.
“This project is in the preliminary stages and we’re eager to continue working with the city of Northville and our partners to iron out the numerous details that come with a project of this scale,” Randy Werthheimer, president and CEO of Hunter Pasteur Homes, said in the release.
“We expect to have all entitlements in place in 2019.
"As more details become available, we will share them with the community.”
There is live harness racing at Northville Downs on most Fridays and Saturdays from March through mid-December.