Friday, April 08, 2005

Dixon Chamber of commerce endorses Dixon Downs

Article Launched: 04/08/2005 08:30:15 AM

Chamber of commerce endorses Dixon Downs

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

A major racetrack development proposed in Dixon has been endorsed formally by the city's chamber of commerce.

Magna Entertainment Corp., based in Aurora, Ontario, Canada, hopes to build "Dixon Downs," a $250 million thoroughbred horse-racing, entertainment and commercial complex on 260 acres south of Interstate 80 and west of Pedrick Road.

The Dixon Chamber of Commerce recently surveyed its 264 members, of whom 115 responded. Roughly 90 percent of those favored the development, said Gordon Hammond, president of the chamber.

Hammond said he supports the racetrack because the ancillary businesses generated from it will bring more economic activity and increase the overall business base for Dixon.

"I think it will be good for business, I think it will be good for Dixon, and I think it will increase the employment base," Hammond said.

Vice Mayor Gil Vega said it is helpful to hear what the chamber has to say and it may have some bearing on the individual council members' decision.

"I appreciate hearing from them, although that won't be the only source of information that I'll be seeking," Vega said. "There are a lot of things to be taken into consideration, and of course one would be the perspective of the business community."

Magna Entertainment Corp. - the largest operator of thoroughbred racetracks in North America, was founded by Austrian-born Frank Stronach. He's had his eye on Dixon off and on since July 2000, paying more than $6.3 million for the land south of Interstate 80 in 2001.

Magna filed its formal proposal with the city in 2003.

Don Erickson, former Dixon mayor and now special project consultant with Magna, said he is elated with the chamber's position.

"I think by them taking a position and sharing it with the community, it will make people more comfortable," Erickson said.

Erickson noted five city-sponsored public meetings have been held this year examining the impacts the huge development would have on the city. The fifth meeting held March 19 was designed to provide an overview of the information discussed at previous gatherings.

"That whole arena has been kind of waiting for the non-proponents, and as we went through that, there were the same people at all of the meetings," Erickson said.

Rob Salaber, owner of Salaber Associates, said his business voted for the project.

Salaber, who is also president of the Downtown Dixon Business Association, said the merchants' association now is being polled and the results will be released within a few days.

Dixon Downs calls for a two-phase project involving the construction of the horse-racing and training facility - track, stables, grandstands and grooms' quarters - followed by a mixed-use commercial complex with such amenities as a multi-screen movie theater, hotel-conference center, restaurants, retail merchants and office space.

City Manager Warren Salmons said he believes the informational exchanges the city has held have been beneficial to an understanding of the project.

"If the chamber membership has voted overwhelmingly to support this, that's indicative that they are welcoming new businesses to the community," Salmons said.

He expects the draft environmental report to be ready in May or June.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

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