IN a move that will incense many in the gallops fraternity in Queensland, harness racing – despite its poor turnover performance and dwindling punter appeal – will be rewarded with a new multi-million dollar grandstand and restaurant at Albion Park.
In a decision cloaked in secrecy, Racing Queensland has made a development application to the Brisbane City Council to replace the demolished Russ Hinze Stand with a facility certain to cost tens of millions.
As news of the proposal leaked, gallops officials were questioning whether the greyhounds would be part of the development; how harness racing could justify a grandstand of this magnitude when crowds are so bad for most of the year; and who is going to finance the project?
RQ has advised BCC that the proposed development is ‘essentially the same as the previous application’ made in 2010 and subsequently withdrawn in early 2011 when the then Board of Racing Queensland decided to change direction and sell Albion Park.
It has been well documented how the Bob Bentley Board wanted to close Deagon as a boutique gallops training facility to make way for a state-of-the-art joint harness and greyhound racing facility.
Politics were played and those pushing the Deagon barrow and concerned about their hefty property investments in the area deserted Bentley and the Labor Party and jumped ship to the LNP which looked certain to win Government.
Many galloping industry officials say that multi millionaire developer and powerful harness figure Kevin Seymour has used his influence with the new Government to ensure that Albion Park is redeveloped.
Seymour mounted a court action against RQ claiming the Bentley Board had reneged on a promise concerning the proposed sale of Albion Park when the Deagon plans for the minor codes were announced. That action was reportedly discontinued when Labor lost Government and a new RQ Board replaced that of Bentley.
The big questions being asked are:
Will the greyhound industry get a new facility of its own – as promised south of Brisbane – using the funds set aside after they were thrown out of Parklands on the Gold Coast or will they have to share Albion Park and continue to play second fiddle to a code that they return far more in TAB turnover than?
Where will the funding come from for the new Albion Park grandstand and restaurant, which will cost tens of millions and how could the Government possibly justify this amount of money when apart from Inter-dominions and a select number of big nights, it will be largely empty?
If the greyhounds are to be given their own facility on how many nights will Albion Park be used or, more to the point, sit idle costing the industry and taxpayers of Queensland millions of dollars as a virtual white elephant? Some say it’s shades of the Russ Hinze days in racing.
What guarantees have been given that the new grandstand – at least the ground level and perhaps the next level up (of three) – will not be inundated if Brisbane has another flood and the river bursts its banks? Albion Park is built on a flood-plain and has been under water virtually every time there has been a big flood in Brisbane, especially worsened by high tides.
In their application to Council, RQ says:
ALBION Park Raceway is to become a revitalized, high quality establishment.
The new grandstand and landscape will not only provide great new facilities for the racing communities, but also a vibrant, welcoming and inviting place for groups and individuals to visit.
The landscape aims to help create this high quality, family and function friendly atmosphere through the creative use of open space and planting.
The following design principles will be the core ideas of the landscape concept.
PERMEABILITY – Assuring ease of use and free flowing movement by providing clear connections between all areas of the site, including vehicular and pedestrian movement.
VARIETY – Facilitating a diversity of activities, by providing flexible facilities that can be adapted to suit many different groups and individuals.
LEGIBILITY – Making people feel welcome by providing spaces which are inviting and easy to use.
COMFORT – Ensuring physical comfort in our sub-tropical climate, by providing ample shade and seating throughout.
EXCITEMENT – Creating a vibrant and exciting atmosphere to all guests by providing interesting visual appeal through landscape detail and by providing site lines and views through to the action on the track.
SAFETY – Providing a safe environment for all users by incorporating CPTED principles, including good visibility, clear site lines for cars and vehicles, and the promotion of casual surveillance.
A glimpse of the designs, which have been sent to Council in the past couple of weeks, shows a grandstand complex that will be the equal of anything in the state and arguably better than any that the major gallops tracks have to offer.
What has many in the gallops industry up in arms is the lack of information provided by RQ on the project. An official of one major TAB club questioned: ‘Why the secrecy. Is RQ scared to tell anyone because they know it will create controversy with harness racing performing so badly?
“The crazy part is they didn’t want anything to do with the merger that Bentley put in place and were quick to separate the three codes but when it comes to harness racing RQ, obviously inspired by political friends of Kevin Seymour, don’t mind spending whole of industry money on the worst performing code.”
In the revised strategy statement released by Racing Minister Stephen Dickson, this was stated about Albion Park:
‘THE harness industry has suffered dramatic decrease in the venues and facilities available to operate the highest quality harness racing.
With the pending removal of the Parklands site for use by the Commonwealth Games this will become more acute.
As the sole remaining metro quality venue, Albion Park must also undergo systematic upgrade. This is intended to be done in concert with the harness and greyhound industries, to release any value of development revenue opportunities, and to develop infrastructure appropriate to the needs of the industry recognizing the role it plays as a wagering producer.
In addition, a strategy needs to be developed as part of this initiative that will address the viability and needs of retaining or removing the greyhound racing role of Albion Park.’
IN relation to Intercode Considerations this is what was said about the Industry Infrastructure Fund and how it could best be distributed to satisfy all three:
The current IIS made no consideration of the balancing of infrastructure requirements across the three codes of racing.
With the pending reintroduction of three separate code specific boards, RQL believes that an agreeable way forward is required so that each code can address its own infrastructure requirements and so equality across the codes can be established.
Of major contention between the greyhound and the harness codes is the equity ownership of Albion Park. When the codes where merged, ownership of Albion Park moved to RQL. Theoretically, RQL can now do as it will with the facility without regard to the historical ownership of 50/50 joint venture between the greyhound and harness industries.
It is RQL’s view though that this is not in the spirit of the LNP platform and is not appropriate.
Each code believes the unlocking of the value of Albion Park is paramount to the establishment of appropriate facilities within each code. However, given that it is RQL’s view that this will remain substantially a harness venue, then no tangible value will be realized in the short-term.
As such, RQL believes that the 50/50 equity expectation should be retained, and any realization of the land value distributed between the two codes when/if realized.
That is, should any part of the land be sold, the proceeds should be distributed 50/50. If the land is developed without being sold, the owner of that development should pay a commercial rent for the portion of land being used, again distributed 50/50. These arrangements would be subject to commercial independent valuation at that time.
However, this still leaves the issue of developing code facilities under the IIS.
It has previously been suggested that the $110 million be allocated as per the prizemoney distribution. RQL sees no validity to this argument, as this is backward looking.
Instead, RQL suggests, after consideration of the strategies and industry segment viability, that the most equitable arrangement would appear to be:
(a) The allocation of the $10 million of funding provided by the Parkland resumption to the infrastructure needs of the greyhound industry.
(b) Recognition of the current state of code contribution to industry revenue, as well as future growth potential, as the determining factor for IIS funds allocation. In approximate terms, this would result in the remaining $100 million being allocated to the thoroughbred, harness and greyhounds industries, 80%, 10% and 10% respectively.
(c) However, considering that RQL has, in the last few years, spent a considerable amount of cross industry funds on thoroughbred only facilities, once these are considered, RQL believes a more appropriate intercode allocation, to take into account this spending, would be thoroughbred $70 million, greyhound $15 million and harness $15 million.
This would increase the greyhound allocation to $25 million, including the $10 million Parkland compensation.
(d) The resultant IIS allocation will therefore be:
THE question remains: If harness racing is to get only $15 million (and Albion Park got the lot), would that cover the cost of this major grandstand development? Not likely.
Therefore, without any information being provided to the industry, one of three scenarios looks likely:
The LNP is going to help out harness racing and kick money in (that is hardly likely to happen considering the parlous financial state confronting the Government).
The other two codes are going to have to help finance the Albion Park redevelopment project (which wouldn’t sit too well with the gallops where there is a desperate need for facility improvements and more prizemoney).
Or perhaps, the most likely, some of the unused Albion Park land is going to be sold for development purposes and the proceeds used to fund the tens of millions needed for a grandstand that many will feel is far too big for the crowds likely to be attracted to harness racing in Brisbane.
Some gallops officials are questioning whether the Albion Park redevelopment should be fast-tracked by an interim RQ Board and should the entire industry not be consulted or at least briefed rather than the appearance that everything is happening in a shroud of secrecy.
[Source: Article from www.letsgohorseracing.com.au]