Statue of race horse Citation in the Hialeah Race Track, in Hialeah, FL.
The Historic Hialeah Race Track, a South Florida landmark built in 1925 and listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, reopened today after years of disuse and neglect. Once considered the crown jewel of horse racing tracks, and one of the most beautiful in the country, it was an object of pride and a source of employment for the city of Hialeah until the last race held there in 2001.
The period of inactivity allowed its Mediterranean style facilities to deteriorate but now, after approximately $12 million spent on renovations, the park is ready to return to its magnificent past by taking its first step today with quarter horse races scheduled to take place until February 2, 2010. A crowd of at least 10,000 is expected at the event.
Only a portion of the park has been restored, and an additional $30 million will be needed to complete this first phase of the project. Park owner John Brunetti expects the full transformation to cost close to $1 billion since the plan includes a complete redevelopment of the surrounding area into a destination spot with a hotel, restaurants, casinos, stores and a theater.
Many community and preservation groups have crusaded for the restoration of this local and national treasure that was once, in a moment of temporary insanity, slated for demolition. They are thankful about this first step although some have reservations about portions of the plan that may overshadow the significance of the park itself.
The work already done has been a source of badly needed jobs in the surrounding blue collar neighborhood but, as this is an ongoing project that will grow in size, Hialeah City Mayor Julio Robaina expects that at least 8,000 permanent direct jobs will be created. Certainly, construction workers will be needed for the duration of the makeover and city officials also hope for a surge in hotel room and tourism services demand, which would, in turn, stimulate hiring in that economic sector. This new income for area residents will trickle down and energize the city's struggling economy.
The horse racing industry is mostly glad for the reopening of the track, as are horse racing enthusiasts. Florida legislators who battled for the park also take pride in the reopening, which they view as a launching pad for casino gambling.
As could be expected, real estate all around the park is attracting attention, to the advantage of property owners. In fact, any type of property in the immediate and surrounding areas that could benefit from the influx of workers and visitors is in the cross hairs of attentive investors. Apartment buildings, commercial properties with restaurant and/or liquor licenses, gas stations, stores and empty lots, all have a function to perform in support of the heightened activity and larger population that will result from the park's reopening.