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Charles Town Races & Slots plans $25 million expansion

January 22, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Having just completed a $54 million expansion last year that included new gaming areas and food service areas, Charles Town Races & Slots is planning another $25 million expansion to give the complex more parking, potential new gaming areas and new offices.

Local officials said that when they attended a grand opening for the $54 million expansion last November, they were told that the racing facility was running out of parking space.

Under the planned $25 million expansion, the four-story parking garage will be extended along Fifth Avenue toward the barn area, track President Jim Buchanan said Wednesday.

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The height of the parking garage will not be increased, but it is to be expanded laterally, Buchanan said.

It is not unusual for the 1,500-space parking garage, which was part of the $54 million expansion, to fill up on Saturdays, Buchanan said. When that happens, patrons are directed to 2,000 spaces in parking lots, Buchanan said.

The expansion of the parking garage will add another 1,000 covered spaces, Buchanan said.

The new offices to be constructed mainly relate to horse racing and include a new steward's office, racing secretary office, a Horsemens Benevolent and Protective Association office and human resources office, Buchanan said.

The current racing offices are in an outdated part of the track.

"It will be a big help for racing," Buchanan said.

To make way for the new offices, a maintenance building and water tower will be torn down, Buchanan said.

As part of the expansion, track officials also will construct a new area of about 25,000 square feet, Buchanan said. The area could be used for 600 more slot machines, although that is part of some longer-term planning, Buchanan said.

The possibility of adding 600 slot machines has not been considered by the track's owner, Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., Buchanan said.

Buchanan laid out the plans for the expansion before members of the West Virginia Racing Commission in Charleston, W.Va., on Wednesday. Because there are new members on the racing commission, Buchanan said he wanted to present the request personally.

Buchanan said Racing Commission members asked him to submit his request in writing. He said the panel probably would act on the request in about a month.

Racing Commission members seemed "very favorable" to the idea, Buchanan said.

"As long as racing is treated fairly, I've got no problems" with the proposed expansion, said Racing Commission member Bryan F. Mitchell.

If track officials get the Racing Commission's approval of the project, construction could start in February or March, Buchanan said.

Local community leaders applauded the expansion plan, saying it could be a boon to the Eastern Panhandle's tourism industry.

If the expansion goes through, the challenge for Charles Town would be to capitalize on the additional visitors coming to the area, said Charles Town Council member Matt Ward.

"They are a linchpin in our tourist economy," Ward said of the track. "I support what they are doing."

David Hamill, mayor of nearby Ranson, W.Va., said he will "embrace anything the track is prepared to do" as it relates to investment in the community.

Asked if there is any concern about whether the track might be getting too big, Jefferson County Commission President Al Hooper said he would have to think about that.

Hooper said he was surprised the track is pushing ahead with another expansion when it is unclear whether Maryland will legalize slot machines.

Local officials gave the track high marks Wednesday for being a good neighbor.

"I think if they continue in the same vein, it will be fine," said County Commissioner Jane Tabb.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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