Apr 12, 2023 - Business

End of an era: Sale and redevelopment planned for Turf Paradise

A cut-out figure of a jockey on a horse in front of a sign that reads Turf Paradise marketplace and racetrack.

Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

The owner of Turf Paradise is negotiating the sale of the historic racetrack to a developer who hopes to continue horse racing on a temporary basis but ultimately plans to redevelop the property.

Driving the news: James Watson, managing partner of CT Realty, which has offices in Dallas and Newport Beach, California, tells Axios Phoenix he's under contract with Turf Paradise owner Jerry Simms to purchase the property. He intends to "redevelop portions" of the land "with industrial and multi-family uses" pending city approval.

  • Neither Simms nor Watson would provide more details of their negotiations due to a confidentiality agreement.
  • No sale has been finalized, and it's unclear when the deal will be completed.

Zoom in: Watson says CT Realty is "conducting extensive due diligence, processing entitlements (to redevelop) and [is] in discussions with a variety of regulatory agencies."

State of play: Simms, who bought Turf Paradise in 2000, tells Axios Phoenix that owning the track has been a great experience but that after 23 years it's time to sell.

  • "I'd rather spend time with my grandkids," he says.

The bottom line: If Turf Paradise closes, it'll be a major blow to the state's horse racing community, Chuck Coolidge, chair of the Arizona Racing Commission, said.

  • Leroy Gessman, executive director of the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, says Watson told his organization he plans to continue racing at Turf Paradise for one or two more seasons.
  • Racing could continue thereafter, "but he is a developer ... not a racetrack owner," Gessman says.
  • Watson says that continued horse racing at the track "will be a function of further discussions with the state, the Horsemen and a variety of other industry stakeholders."

What's next: Arizona Downs in Prescott Valley, the state's other horse track, is also under contract to sell to the Stronach Group, which owns six tracks nationwide.

  • The track didn't ask the racing commission for any race dates this summer because it doesn't have the finances to hold a summer season, co-owner Tom Auther tells Axios Phoenix.
  • Gessman says he believes Stronach will extend the Arizona Downs racing season if Turf Paradise closes, partially offsetting the loss of the Phoenix track's race dates.

Flashback: Local businessman Walter Cluer opened Turf Paradise in 1956.

  • Cluer announced in February 1954 he would open his track near 56th Street and Shea Boulevard, but objections from residents led him to change the site a month later to the 19th Avenue and Bell Road location, The Arizona Republic reported at the time.

💭 Jeremy's thought bubble: I grew up down the street from Turf Paradise, and it's weird to think about a not-too-distant future where it's not there anymore.

  • For the past decade-plus, I'd go once a year for a friend's birthday party. Last month, I went there for the first time since 2020, just before it shut down for the pandemic.
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