SARATOGA SPRINGS: Bidder calls for track registry

Empire Racing, one of the contenders for New York's racing franchise, has called for the placement of the Saratoga Race Course and some other nearby racing properties on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

Empire Racing CEO Jeff Perlee sent a letter to Saratoga Springs Mayor Valerie Keehn highlighting the need to place the Saratoga Race Course and other historic racing-related buildings on the registers.

Portions of the track property lie within the Union Avenue Historic District, which includes more than 250 buildings and private homes and is listed on both the Federal and State Historic Districts. However, the race course -- including the famous Victorian Grandstand, clubhouse and paddock area -- is not specifically listed on either Register.

As a former member of the Saratoga-Capitol State Park Commission, I learned that specific historic buildings within a larger historic district should themselves be specifically designated. That's not been done by the current operator and, frankly, it's something that should have been done a long time ago, Perlee said.

Empire Racing included this proposal to Gov. Eliot Spitzer's franchise selection panel in April and has pledged to fund the entire process. Getting placed on the registries requires the successful completion of a complex application process.

Empire's proposal also calls for the expansion of the Union Avenue Historic District to include properties on the north side of Union Avenue such as the recreation hall, stables and Oklahoma Training Track. Empire details specific renovations to the backstretch buildings, BEST offices and recreation hall to remedy their current disrepair.

"It is shocking that Saratoga's most historic structure is specifically not listed on either register," said Kevin Carey, former executive director of the Natural Heritage Trust, a public benefit corporation dedicated to conservation and historic preservation.

Carey works with Empire on historic preservation issues. Failure to specifically list the structures on the registries limits the Saratoga Race Course's chances for receiving grants that could be used to preserve the property, he said.

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