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Should the town buy the Fort Erie Race Track?

Mike Desmond

The Fort Erie Race Track remains up for sale, but a fight is brewing inside the the town council about buying the property and there is the potential of slot machines returning.There were provincial slot machines inside the track, which at their peak put $5 million a year into town coffers. In the wake of 9/11 and the tougher border, that had dropped to $1 million when the former provincial government abruptly closed the facility.

That money had provided town government with the cash for a variety of programs and projects.

"We created the Friendship Trail. We built some parks. We were able to restore some facilities. We accelerated the repair, rehabilitation and maintenance of our infrastructure, roads, water and sewer lines, bridges, ditches, that type of thing," said Mayor Wayne Redekop, "and we also provided some tax relief."

Some council members now want to have the Economic Development and Tourism Corporation buy the underlying property, which is leased for racing until 2022. Redekop is opposed to municipal purchase, but said slot machines would make it more viable.

"That was one further item that could attract people and did attract people. It provided, at one point, 300 jobs within the muncipality and provided lots of economic spinoff," Redekop said. "So it's a much more vibrant, much more viable and much more attractive facility if it's got the gaming."

Developer Carl Paladino is managing partner for the property owners, CMP, and said it is for sale.

"There's this great discussion going on as to whether the Town of Fort Erie is going to go off and sell bonds in order to allow FELRC - which is called the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium - to allow FELRC to own the track property and deal with the idea of updates," Paladino said.

He said new Ontario Premier Doug Ford has talked about about doing something to aid Fort Erie's economy and that might possibly be a return of slots.

However, that could depend on whatever is in the newly announced deal to run casinos in Niagara Falls, since the province could give the designated new operator the rights to control slots in Fort Erie. Paladino said he does not know what is in that deal.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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