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Red Mile sees development as way to save track

Owners of The Red Mile are working with the city on a plan to develop about half the business's property as a way to ensure that the historic harness racing track can stay in business.

The Red Mile Village Development Plan was presented to the Planning Commission at its work session Thursday.

Ideas, still very much in the conceptual stage, include a mixed-use project with retail, commercial, residential and office space and a public greenway with a biking and pedestrian trail that could possibly tie into the Town Branch Trail.

"We want to get out front and explore the possibilities of how this property could best be used," said Robert F. Duncan, attorney for the track.

Representatives of the track owners have approached the city about developing 68 acres of the track's 132 acres. The area is generally between the grandstand and Red Mile Road.

The Red Mile sits on a large swath of valuable land near the University of Kentucky and downtown.

"It is one of the few major infill sites we have available to us," Chis King, director of the city's division of planning, told Planning Commission members Thursday.

"We decided we should look not piecemeal at the property, but at the big picture," King said, after meeting with track representatives. "We do not want to see a strip commercial development along Red Mile Road."

For optimum community input and garnering of ideas, King recommended a working group be formed with representatives of the nearby neighborhoods; Urban County council member Peggy Henson, whose district includes The Red Mile; the Planning Commission; UK and area businesses, such as Central Equipment and Fayette Seed.

The group will develop a few key, long-range ideas for the site, identify issues of concern and solicit public input.

Planning Commission chairman Randall Vaughn will name the members.

King said the group should report to the commission in three months.

The Red Mile has hired Urban Collage design firm to take that report and come up with a development plan expected to be implemented in stages over several years.

King stressed the importance of soliciting ideas and opinions from the major stakeholders and the public about the property.

This sentiment was echoed by Vaughn, who said he wanted the city to have a voice in planning how the land was developed. By being "pro-active, we can avoid things we don't want."

The Red Mile is the second oldest harness track in America.

An important fixture in the harness racing circuit, it has been under financial stress in recent years with the decline of harness racing in Kentucky.

In 2000, the track was sold for $9.3 million to a group of five harness industry leaders who later invested $4 million in renovating the track and its buildings.

Stan Harvey, a principal in Urban Collage, told the commission that the owners believe "the real estate will be part of the solution to making the track a sustainable operation."

Planning member Frank Penn asked whether the future of the harness track hinged on expanded gambling in Kentucky.

Harvey said the owners were interested in gambling, "but that is not what this development plan is about. ... This is a way, without expanded gambling, to have a sustainable operation."

In 2009, Red Mile has 34 days of harness racing on its calendar, plus two days of quarter-horse racing.

Races from other tracks also are simulcast at The Red Mile.

In addition to the racetrack, other facilities at The Red Mile include a two-story clubhouse and an historic round barn.

There also is the Tattersalls sales pavilion and Paddock Park, which often is the site of concerts.

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