By JOYZELLE DAVIS
The owners of Santa Anita Park in Arcadia are reviving plans to build a major entertainment project adjacent to their horse racing track.
Santa Anita Cos. Inc. last month filed plans with the city of Arcadia to build a 500,000-square-foot entertainment and retail center on its 100-acre parking lot. The $60 million project would include a 30-screen multiplex theater, several restaurants, an upscale grocery store and several “big-box” retailers, according to Brian Fleming, executive vice president at Santa Anita Cos. A separate 90,000-square-foot medical building is also included in the proposal.
This is the second time that the race track operator has proposed a commercial project for its 400-acre property. The owners proposed a 1.5 million-square-foot entertainment-retail project in 1994, but met fierce community opposition. Outrage was so strong that a citizens group put an initiative on the ballot that would have required voter approval of proposed development projects on the parking lot.
The initiative failed, but the Santa Anita owners withdrew their application and spent the next two years scaling down their proposal.
Community response to the new proposal so far has been favorable, according to Bob Harbicht, mayor of the San Gabriel Valley city.
“We anticipate a far different reaction this time around,” Harbicht said. Not only is the project one-third as large as its predecessor, but recent cuts in city services have made the community “conscious of the need for responsible, revenue-generating development,” he said.
The Santa Anita facilities, built in 1934, are located off the Foothill (210) freeway between Baldwin Avenue and Huntington Drive. The proposed development would go on the southern portion of the racetrack’s 100-acre surface parking lot.
Santa Anita officials say they don’t believe there will be parking problems, noting that one-third of the race track’s 19,000 spaces typically go unused during the track’s 23-week season.
The advent of off-track betting in the mid-1980s hurt attendance. An average of 33,000 people visited the track each day in the mid-’80s. Now the park has an average daily attendance of 13,000 people, Fleming said. He added that the track’s revenues haven’t suffered, noting that almost 80 percent of the park’s wage revenue comes from off-track betting.
The new retail project is intended to complement the adjacent 1.1 million-square-foot Santa Anita Fashion Park Mall. The Canadian real estate firm TrizecHahn Corp. built the mall in 1973, and Santa Anita has an ownership stake in it.
Santa Anita Cos. will develop the project by itself with the financial backing of its new parent company The Meditrust Cos., a real estate investment trust that purchased Santa Anita in November.
The proposed development still has its environmental impact report and public hearings ahead of it. But if all goes smoothly, Fleming said his company hopes to break ground on the project later this year and have the center open by late 1999.