The historic Suffolk Downs race track has announced it will no longer hold live racing, due to not getting a casino license. It seems the current gambling model has no future as manager/caretaker of American racing, but Suffolk Downs itself has great potential if it will focus on what it’s truly about … horses.
Suffolk Downs management has since said: “We’re willing to listen”.
Suffolk Downs could move forward today as a horse-centered attraction to benefit the community of East Boston/Revere, as well as greater Boston and beyond. Huge potential exists for this sizeable, established, historic equestrian facility next to the international airport of an educated, affluent city with so few horse outlets and which thrives as a tourist destination. (Metro pop. 4.5 million)
Horse racing can continue at Suffolk Downs–additional uses of the unique facility can provide a revenue base. Suffolk Downs has a great deal of unused capacity: the property lies unused most of the year. Racing is held only half a day, three times a week for 5 months each year. Live racing could continue while expanding the facility’s usage to access revenue streams that have developed since Suffolk Downs racing heyday.
There are 6 potential legs to the profitability table:
I. Horse racing The first important revenue enhancement would be to promote the sport and Suffolk Downs to the broader public, something which has not been effectively done in several decades. It should be recognized that horse-players and enthusiasts are not necessarily the same as casino-clientele: horse gambling revenues are largely separate from casino profit.
Note: Opening the facility to a family focus could be done easily: the remaining area for gamblers is in the Clubhouse, set to one side of the larger, two-story open Grandstands (and open plaza) … it would be a simple act of signage to establish a soft division between a more intimate, adult, gambling-focused section, and a bigger and more family-oriented public area offering smaller ‘fun’ wagering. This would allow an appropriate space for families and also adult gamblers.
II. Other equestrian competition The facility is ready to conduct other major equestrian competition once it has developed arena space. Some 1200 stalls and related equestrian amenities exist on the 150+ acre property of Suffolk Downs … the stable block is adjacent to the mile-long main track, of which the entire infield of at least 100 acres is landscaped but otherwise unused. There is room for arenas and an International Grandprix ring (with existing seating for 15,000) AND a grassy picnic area for spectators … just five subway stops from the Waterfront at the heart of historical downtown Boston for exhibitors. The airport is less than 3 miles away.
III. Horse-themed retail/events Public-oriented horse events have discovered economic benefit through providing quality retail shopping areas … here is an ongoing horse event! Outdoor facilities at Suffolk Downs could be developed, and ample room also exists within the Grandstand buildings, side areas and numerous paved lots for permanent/semi-permanent spaces of equestrian-themed shopping. There is also existing space for conference rooms, exhibition areas, galleries–all contained in a unique and classic equestrian-themed setting.
IV. Corporate sponsorship There are greater possibilities for beneficial sponsorship in an inclusive public facility, including not only title sponsorship, but for educational horse-themed exhibits, volunteer/hospitality centers, pony rides, children’s play areas and other wholesome family-oriented facilities. The site can give exposure in a sport that literally invented the concept of sponsorship over 2000 years ago.
V. Donor Opportunities Humans have never been without horses before … our relationship is older than history. Today’s mechanized age has presented maybe the greatest crossroads the horse and human relationship has ever faced. Philanthropy is part of the ancient equestrian tradition, and there is opportunity now to sincerely contribute to humanity’s future by helping preserve horses for future generations. Suffolk Downs could offer an important way for donors to be remembered.
VI. Public partnership As our technological era continues and we face greater loss of connection with the natural world, our living historical link with horses will become more important–not less. Some limited governmental role seems appropriate to protect this investment for our future.
In return, Suffolk Downs could benefit area education as a partner in school field trips and various educational opportunities with horses. Lead-line rides and even beginner-level riding instruction could be made available through privately-run programs, with recommendations to local stables for interested students. There could be tie-ins with local art and museum interests and historical groups/events. 4-H, FFA and other youth programs, farrier schools, medical veterinary resources, equine therapy and other aspects of horsemanship could find a new home.
Variety and universality are strengths of horse activities today. Private investment by an individual interest is one path. It is also possible that a non-profit organization could manage the entire property to specific (and reportable) mission goals including attendance, business participation, revenue, tax allocations, public outreach, local community benefits, etc.
Activities and areas could be managed within this umbrella to create ‘free enterprise zones’ that allow for private business activity to achieve their own visions within a specific sphere … security and facility assurances (and a clear path to continuity) could foster a positive environment for investment and private initiative.
Suffolk Downs is a going concern—the property simply needs to be run effectively as an actual business. Permits and drainage and access issues have been worked out over the decades: the difficult work has been done. Suffolk Downs also has the advantage of a period of somnolence to spring from … a new initiative could creditably and truthfully be announced as an exciting new start.
Events have made it clear that Suffolk Downs must expand from a part-time, single-use equine facility with a focus on casino interests. If the property can be repositioned and refitted for a broad love of horses AND is focused on sharing it with the public … not only would the public respond, but Boston, the horse world and future generations would greatly benefit.
Suffolk Downs could be on the edge of a great and renewing historical adventure, preserving the past as it welcomes the future.