Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dixon sets a pace for track pact Magna accord off to running start

Article Launched: 01/25/2006 06:26:40 AM

Dixon sets a pace for track pact
Magna accord off to running start

By David Henson/Staff Writer

Lorne Kumer (from left) and Donald Cameron, both representing Dixon Downs, talk with Mayor Gil Vega during a break Tuesday. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

The Dixon City Council got a running start Tuesday night - and plenty of public input - on a development agreement with a Canadian corporation that wants to build a 260-acre thoroughbred horse racing complex in the northeast part of the city.

Magna Entertainment's Dixon Downs project - a massive racing, entertainment and retail facility proposed for an undeveloped site just west of Pedrick Road near Interstate 80 - is on pace for a final vote sometime this year.

A development agreement, which likely will dovetail with a final vote on an environmental review later this year, would bind contractually the city and Magna to fulfill certain requirements relating to the project.

The agreement could also clear up contentious issues such as whether slot machines could ever be allowed at Dixon Downs and what portion of the needed public infrastructure should Magna be required to fund up front.

Tuesday night, the Dixon City Council and several local residents added to the 36-item list of potential sticking points regarding the track's approval, though city officials warned that the list is not definitive and is subject to future negotiations with Magna.

"This is not the first and probably not the last time you'll hear about this development agreement," Mayor Mary Ann Courville said.

Still, Courville seemed to respond to Magna's initial framing in May of the development agreement.

In two letters addressed to the city, Magna officials said very firmly that they would like the city to reinvest a portion of the revenue generated by the track back into the construction of roads and public utilities infrastructure at the undeveloped site.

Magna also floated the idea of a Mello Roos district to help fund the infrastructure. In addition, it asked the city to help pay the costs of a multi-million dollar upgrade of the Pedrick Road/Interstate 80 interchange.

"They can't tie our hands like that. We have to determine where those funds are going to be spent," Courville said.

The mayor also countered Magna's request that slot machine be allowable, should the state allow them and should the city grant the developer's subsequent request.

"The approval of slot machines should require a vote by the citizens of Dixon in a regularly scheduled election before any action by the city council," Courville said. "This would be a horse-racing facility, not a gaming, gambling facility."

Magna attorney J. Cleve Livingston clarified some of the seemingly firm positions outlined the May letters from Magna, indicating those issues aren't set in stone.

"When we submitted the letters in May, it was to share with you our perspective and provide you with a list of what we'd like to see addressed," Livingston said.

As they have in the past, opponents of the project - organized under the Dixon Citizens for Quality Growth banner - asked the city Tuesday night not to allow the racetrack, or at least to place stringent requirements on it.

Instead of asking the city to help front costs for infrastructure as suggested by Magna, Gail Preston said that only "the project should pay for what it needs."

Supporters of the project, such as Downtown Dixon Business Association President Rob Salaber, asked the council to be fair and reasonable during their negotiations.

"I don't believe a development agreement should be used as a tool to squeeze and extract every last drop of blood from a proponent,"

Salaber said, echoing comments from Magna's letters to the city in May.

For its part, Magna officials on hand said they were pleased to see the first steps toward development agreement negotiations - something the corporation requested around eight months ago.

"We really welcome this opportunity to engage with staff and the public. It's been a long time coming," Livingston said. "At this point, we're really ready to begin these discussions in earnest."

David Henson can be reached at

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