DEVELOPING: Churchill Downs secures eastern Daviess County site to build Ellis Park extension; says City ‘rejected’ proposal

June 13, 2023 | 12:10 am

Updated June 13, 2023 | 12:56 am

Ellis Park Owensboro

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) has secured a site to build an Ellis Park extension facility in eastern Daviess County, outside of city limits. CDI said they nixed plans to use Towne Square Mall after the City Commission “rejected” the company’s proposal and “were not willing to reconsider at that time.”

CDI released the following Monday afternoon:

Churchill Downs Incorporated has secured a site in eastern Daviess County, outside of the Owensboro city limits, to build our $75 million regional tourism destination. Originally, we were in discussions to develop the Ellis Park extension at Towne Square Mall; however, on March 21st, Owensboro City Commissioners rejected our proposal. In the aftermath of that decision, we immediately urged reconsideration and were told they were not willing to reconsider at that time. We thus began exploring alternative sites and are moving forward with the execution of this exciting project in eastern Daviess County.

Owensboro Times asked for a more specific location, but a CDI spokesperson said, “We will be able to share exact location info soon, but not at the current moment.”

Daviess County Judge-Executive Charlie Castlen said he was contacted by Churchill Downs shortly after the proposal was “rejected” by the City of Owensboro. He said Churchill Downs was looking at where to purchase land in the county.

“I advised them unless you find a spot that’s out a bit, I daresay the City will try to annex you in, so I said you might want to consider that when you pick a spot,” Castlen recalled. “… When they were in my office, I specifically pointed at the map and said Stanley, Sorgho, West Louisville, Philpot — those are points that I made to them.”

Castlen said Churchill Downs did not reveal a location to him at any point during or after the conversation.

Noting the County’s smoking ordinance is less restrictive than the City’s, Castlen said he doesn’t see it being an issue with CDI’s new plans for the extension facility.

With no changes to an ordinance needed and because it would be private development, Castlen added that he doesn’t think there’s any action Fiscal Court can or needs to take regarding the building of the facility.

However, Castlen said that he personally is not in favor of the facility coming to the Owensboro-Daviess County community.

“I’m personally not a big fan of gambling. I don’t think it’s good for the community, especially for those who have a propensity to become addicted to it. I’ve witnessed that in my life. I’ve witnessed it with tax clients, and it’s not good,” Castlen said.

Even beyond the exposure to gambling, Castlen said he doesn’t support the endeavor because the County is not the “big winner” in the equation.

“For me, it’s taking money out of our community. The big winner with them coming to our community will be Churchill Downs,” he said.

Daviess County’s East Commissioner Janie Marksberry said she learned of the deal on Monday morning after a phone call with Churchill Downs officials.

“[Churchill Downs said] they were going to put this somewhere in the eastern part of the county and didn’t want to be close enough to where they could be annexed in,” Marksberry said.

However, she said the location was not disclosed to her at the time.

The City of Owensboro on Friday announced they were revisiting the smoking ordinance to potentially approve the amendment, even with no guarantee CDI would still use the mall for the extension.

Following CDI’s announcement Monday, City Manager Nate Pagan said the ordinance is”probably not [going to be on the agenda]. We’re working on that right now because it becomes irrelevant at that point.”

The amendment was initially introduced on March 7 as a way to permit smoking at the potential Ellis Park extension at Towne Square Mall. The Commission heard a second reading at their March 21 meeting, but agreed to indefinitely postpone a vote on whether to adopt the amendment. (Editor’s note: The Commission at that time still included Larry Maglinger, who died in late April. Sharon NeSmith was chosen to fill that seat in the interim.)

OT was the first to report on May 31 that CDI had nixed the plans to use Towne Square Mall for the Ellis Park extension, and the company was looking for other locations to build the entertainment venue. On June 1, City Commissioners spoke to OT about their reactions to CDI pulling the plug on using the mall. None were surprised by the decision.

Of note, the City of Owensboro’s smoking ban has been in place since 2014. Daviess County (outside of city limits) has had a smoking ordinance in place since 2005, but it’s not as strict as the City’s.

OT broke the news about the initial plans for the Ellis Park expansion in October 2021, and in March 2022 OT was the first to report Ellis Park had reached a definitive lease agreement with TSM Holdings LLC to lease 62,000 square feet in the former JCPenney’s location. 

The project at the mall was estimated to cost $20 million. Construction was originally supposed to begin in summer 2022 with an anticipated opening date in early 2023, but little progress was ever made on the building.

In September 2022, CDI announced it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire Ellis Park Racing & Gaming in Henderson for total consideration of $79 million in cash. The agreement called for CDI to assume Ellis Park’s track extension facility project in Owensboro.

According to a release at the time, “CDI has commenced planning to make both critical investments in the Ellis Park racing infrastructure and to construct Owensboro Racing & Gaming, a track extension and entertainment venue at Owensboro’s Towne Square Mall that will feature 600 HRMs, a simulcast wagering center, and multiple food and beverage offerings.”

Company officials said CDI expected its total investment in Henderson and Daviess counties to be approximately $75 million in addition to the purchase price.

A week after the acquisition announcement, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission officially approved Churchill Downs’ purchase of Ellis Park. 

June 13, 2023 | 12:10 am

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