Charles Town Race grant variances

April 19, 2001

Charles Town Race grant variances

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

The Charles Town Races on Thursday received permission to exceed Jefferson County's 40-foot high height restriction, enabling a $60 million expansion to move ahead at the thoroughbred track.

The variance granted by the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals allows the track to construct a 63 foot tall parking building and a 58 foot tall slot machine gaming facility.

Next month, track owners are expected to go before the zoning board of appeals to ask for permission to build a 100-foot hotel on track property.

Many track patrons from out of state say they would like to stay over for a night or two when visiting the track, but local motels may be full, track president Jim Buchanan has said.


The parking building will have a capacity for 1,200 cars and will connect with the new entertainment facility and grandstand, Buchanan said.

Many of the track's patrons are older people, and there has been concern about them walking long distances over the track's parking lot, especially in icy conditions in winter, Buchanan told the zoning board of appeals.

The new entertainment center will replace a large tent that houses 480 slot machines outside the track entrance. The entertainment center probably would continue to house the slot machines and perhaps a restaurant and lounge, Buchanan has said.

In making his argument for building the entertainment center higher than county laws allow, Buchanan said the track wanted a gaming facility to have higher ceilings than the gaming area inside the grandstand.

Having high ceilings in the slot machine areas makes it easier to vent smoke and heat, Buchanan said.

"It's just an improved ambiance," Buchanan said.

No one spoke in opposition to the expansion during an afternoon meeting before the zoning board of appeals.

Henry Christie, president of the Jefferson County Fire and Rescue Association, said none of the fire chiefs in the county were concerned about having buildings that high in the county.

The various fire departments are comfortable with the proposal based on the type of equipment they have, Christie said.

Dick Watson, president of the Horsemens Benevolent and Protective Association, said it is important that the track be able to continue its progress.

Shortly after Penn National Gaming took over the track in 1996, the horsemen were racing for about $5 million a year in purses, Watson said.

This year, they can expect to compete for about $20 million in purses, Watson said.

The track is expected to generate about $150 million in gross revenue this year, about $60 million of which will go to the state. If the track gets the approvals it needs to build the hotel and start the $60 million expansion, 400 jobs are likely to be created, Buchanan said.

The track has about 750 full-time employees and 250 part-time workers.

Adding another 400 jobs probably would increase the track's payroll from $13 million a year to $19 million, Buchanan said.

"All of that, of course, comes back into the area. It's a great story," he said.

Construction on the expansion could begin this summer and be completed in about a year, track officials said.

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