Plans by Madison Square Garden Co. – new owners of the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. – to pump $50 million into resurrecting the former home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings into a world-class music venue could be the final nail in the coffin for horse racing at adjacent Betfair Hollywood Park racetrack.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts told the Los Angeles Times the renovation project for the one-time “fabulous” Forum will bring development plans for Hollywood Park Tomorrow out of mothballs. Hollywood Park Tomorrow is a $2-billion real estate project with plans for 3,000 residential units, retail stores, theaters, restaurants, a hotel and casino. Inglewood's mayor told the Times the Hollywood Park Tomorrow project, which will end live racing at the “track of the lakes and flowers,” could begin as early as next year. It's been on hold for several years during the economic downturn.
Hollywood Park is owned by the Bay Meadows Land Co., which previously bought Bay Meadows racetrack nearly San Francisco and demolished it in 2008 with plans for development. That land still sits largely vacant. Hollywood Park's owners have made no secret of their intention to close the track and develop the Inglewood racetrack property.
What that means for the short- and long-term horse racing calendar in Southern California is anyone's guess. Frank Stronach wants to expand Santa Anita Park's racing dates, and Del Mar also can be expected to apply for additional dates if and when Hollywood Park closes. But the California Horse Racing Board, which sets the racing calendar, has so far avoided making any commitment or decisions about what will happen when Hollywood Park meets the inevitable wrecking ball.
Hollywood Park hosted the first Breeders' Cup in 1984 and currently holds two live race meetings in the spring-summer and fall-winter. The track first opened in 1938 and has been an innovator throughout its history through several ownership changes. The track was once a playground for Hollywood celebrities like Cary Grant, Mervyn LeRoy and Howard Koch and boasted average daily attendance of nearly 30,000 as recently as the early 1980s. On-track business has become anemic in recent years, and the track was renamed Betfair Hollywood Park earlier this year through a marketing agreement with the exchange wagering company.
Madison Square Garden Co., whose world-famous namesake arena in New York City hosts major sports and entertainment events, bought the Forum for $23.5 million from the Faithful Central Bible Church. The company also owns Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theater in New York, the Chicago Theater and Boston's Wang Theater.
When the Lakers and Kings moved from the Forum to the Staples Center south of downtown Los Angeles in 1999, the city of Inglewood took a huge hit in both tax revenue and appeal. The Forum was opened in 1967.
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