Sep 19, 2023 - Business

Turf Paradise owner seeks buyer after planned sale falls through

Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

The planned redevelopment of Turf Paradise is up in the air after a developer backed out of plans to purchase the historic horse track in north Phoenix.

Catch up quick: CT Realty, which has offices in Dallas and Newport Beach, California, was under contract to buy the property and planned to convert it into a business park that would include residential, commercial and industrial development near 19th Avenue and Bell Road.

Driving the news: James Watson, CT Realty's managing partner, told The Arizona Republic on Monday that he was canceling his planned purchase of the track because the project had become "too demanding" and was facing backlash.

  • CT Realty also wanted state lawmakers to approve the use of "historic horse racing" machines it could install at the track, which faced opposition from Native American tribes who were concerned it would infringe on their gaming operations.
  • Turf Paradise owner Jerry Simms on Monday announced his retirement after 23 years running the track and said there'll be no more live racing, meaning the meet it planned to launch in early November is canceled.
  • The track will also halt simulcasting of horse races starting Oct. 1, which will require it to close the 37 off-track betting locations it runs in Arizona.

What's next: Simms tells Axios Phoenix he's been talking with several other potential buyers. "There's a number of people that have interest," he says.

  • The property has already been rezoned for CT Realty's proposed project, he said, but rezoning is still needed for 28 acres.

Meanwhile, Simms' retirement and CT Realty's decision to back out leave the future of Arizona horse racing in limbo.

  • Watson had committed to continuing racing at Turf Paradise for at least two more years, Leroy Gessmann, executive director of the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, tells Axios Phoenix.

Prescott Valley's Arizona Downs, which as of June was still under contract to be sold to the Stronach Group, raised the possibility of holding a meet later this year, but those plans didn't work out, Gessmann says.

  • It's still possible there could be a meet there next May, he says, telling us the track and some investors are interested.
  • Of note: Rillito Park Racetrack in Tucson held a racing season this year and hasn't indicated it won't do the same in 2024.

The intrigue: Gessmann says his organization has talked with national companies that own race tracks about opening a new track in Arizona, and he says he's received three calls since Simms' announcement.

  • It's not economically feasible for someone else to buy Turf Paradise and continue horse racing there because the land is too expensive and there's so much of it, he says.
  • Gessmann adds the people he's spoken with want to build a new facility in the Phoenix area. "It would have to be on the edge of town somewhere," he says.

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

  • Cluer announced in February 1954 he'd 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.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove an incorrect statement contending that Arizona would be without any horse racing if Arizona Downs is not bought or a new track built. (There is still a track in Tucson.)


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