Capital Improvements Continue At Laurel Park

0628 BIZ Hard hat glovesIt’s out with the old and in with the new in the Laurel Park clubhouse, as the Stronach Group continues its plans for capital improvements at the track first built in 1911.

Underway is the remodeling of the Wilwyn Theater, which is also getting a new name – Silks. It’s part of the Stronach Group’s plan for continuing to brand its business. Silks will correspond with Silks at Gulfstream Park, but Maryland Jockey Club president and general manager Sal Sinatra said,

“I believe ours will be better.” And when you hear Sinatra describe what’s coming, you might agree with him. New carpet and a new color scheme, he said. But he’s just warming up. There also will be 90 new flat-screen televisions. Nice, but he’s not done.

“The center wall will have a state-of-the-art, high-definition, 17 ½-foot diagonal picture,” he said. “It’s a $70,000 TV. The horses look like they’re going to run over you!”
There will be better carrels, work desks, with granite tops and their own individual lighting. Each desk will have a plug for an iPad or computer – and a headphone system also is being installed.

“Right now we have 20 TVs on the wall with telecasts from various tracks, but you only hear Laurel,” Sinatra said. “We are developing an app where I can program 16 channels. You plug your headphones in and you can hear whatever track you want. No one else has that.

“We’re trying to get the ‘WOW!’ factor. You’ll see it right there. We’re planning to have those earbuds available at guest services. You can bring your own or you can get ours free and they’re yours to keep. I’m hoping people will get them, hold on to them and bring them back each time they come.”

Sinatra anticipates the new Silks will become a very popular spot, and it is supposed to be done by Sept. 12, when Laurel Park opens for the fall meet, that will run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

What exactly is coming in the long-term may be better known after Frank Stronach gives his input.

In the meantime, Sinatra is leading the redevelopment charge at Laurel. Besides Silks, a lot more is going on – or about to at Laurel Park.

When you arrive at the track for Opening Day, you’ll have a few more food choices. A new Barbecue and rotisserie chicken stand will be open near the current pizza stand and grill. And there will also be a bakery/sweet shop with candy and ice cream. “It’s not just for the kids,” Sinatra said, chuckling.

New flooring is going in throughout the grandstand Sinatra said.

There is also a new bar set up on the track apron along the front stretch, with indoor/outdoor service. If inside, there are 14 bar seats with good views of the track and if you’re outside, you can simply walk up and order your cocktail.

Once the work on the main floor of the clubhouse is finished, Sinatra said his work crews will be moving upstairs where they will begin converting the area outside the Ruffian Room from the red-seated theater area to a sports bar. That area, Sinatra said, should be finished by the time Major League Baseball begins its playoffs. And, by the time November and December roll around, a new gaming center should be in place at the far end of the grandstand.

“It was originally going to have arcade games, but we found out the taxes in the county are excessive for that,” Sinatra said. “It’s $5,000 for a license, $100 per machine and 10 percent of the take. So, it’s going to be computer video games instead. It’s the new, popular thing with games and tournaments. It will be for kids and teens – young kids all the way up.”

While all this interior work is going on, more barns are being constructed. One was finished in the spring, now another is underway and still another – and perhaps more – are in the offing.

“There’s at least one more to come,” Sinatra said. “We just have to see what the land will let us do. We’re not sure if we’ll replace old barns or build new ones. The area we have, we know will take two more. The land is already leveled for those and each one will hold 150 stalls. We hope to have those done by Nov. 1.”

Sinatra said the agreement with the horsemen was to build two barns, “but we’re going beyond that. We’ve seen a lot of horsemen coming. It’s been moving in the right direction and it hasn’t plateaued.”

When Sinatra was hired by the MJC last December, he said there were approximately 900 horses at Laurel Park, 200 at the Bowie Training Center and 200 at Pimlico. Now, those numbers have grown to 300 at Pimlico and 1,200, soon to be 1500 at Laurel Park.

“The goal,” he said, “is to have from 1,800 to 2,000 horses [stabled at the Maryland tracks]. That’s the goal. The more horses, the better the field size and that helps the product.”

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