On Monday, Northville Downs confirmed that it would host 10 live harness racing dates on Friday and Saturday nights between Jan. 5 and Feb. 3, allowing the suburban Detroit track to race into its 80th year as it contemplates a move to nearby Plymouth Township.
Northville Downs has known it would have to move its operations elsewhere since 2018, when the track’s owners, siblings John and Mike Carlo, sold the land on which it sits to Hunter Pasteur Homes, which recently received approval to move forward with a mixed-use development that features hundreds of housing units, commercial entities, and green space.
For a while, it looked all but certain that the Carlos would move the track to a parcel of land they’d purchased in Plymouth Township, but local opposition and lack of progress on a Planned Use Development and Community Benefit Agreement have cast doubt on where Northville will host races beyond 2024.
“My last meeting with John Carlo and [attorney] Mike Cox was on October 2,” said Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise. “I have not heard from them since. We’ve been asking for information on a draft PUD since May and we still haven’t received it. I made an offer regarding the Community Benefit Agreement on October 2. I’ve had no response from anybody on that document.”
But Heise holds no bitterness toward the Carlos, telling MI Bets, “I wish them all the best. I think whatever decisions they make are gonna be business decisions. I know there’s been, unfortunately, a lot of politics wrapped up in this, but ultimately it’s a business decision by the Carlo family. The political opposition in Plymouth Township will simply move on to another manufactured crisis.”
Redevelopment timing uncertain
Northville Downs was originally scheduled to hold its last race at the current facility on Sept. 30. But the track successfully petitioned the Michigan Gaming Control Board to keep racing until the day after Thanksgiving, followed by a successful request to host the 10 dates in 2024.
“We are pleased to be able to offer our horsemen, women, fans, and neighbors additional live racing days in 2024 to celebrate our 80th anniversary,” Mike Carlo said in a press release. “While it is bittersweet that this will be our last stand at the old facility, we look forward to a brighter future for harness racing in Michigan as we move on to our next endeavor and cannot wait to bring a new facility to our fans in the near future.”
Keeping horses on the current track refreshes its licenses through the end of 2024, buying it time to find a new location and enabling it to host simulcast wagering throughout the year.
“After their live racing schedule comes to a close in early February 2024, Northville can request more live racing days, look for a new track, stay in the old track — whatever they wish to do,” MGCB spokesperson Lisa Keith told MI Bets. “The options for what they would be able to do at that time would essentially be best answered by the track that may be available to them.”
Whether the existing facility will be available through or beyond 2024 will depend on the pace of redevelopment. Calling the track’s transformation “the most deliberated project in the state of Michigan’s history,” Northville Mayor Brian Turnbull said the daylighting of a river that cuts through the property could be completed by the end of 2024, but there’s been no indication of when demolition of Michigan’s last operational racetrack will start.
Regardless of when its date with the dynamite comes, Turnbull said the community is grateful to “give their respects one last time because we all grew up with the track.”
“Northville Downs and horse racing has been part of what Northville’s been all about,” said Turnbull, who parked cars at the track in his younger years. “We were the first lit harness racing track. It is nostalgic. A lot of people are going down there because we all grew up there. Not only has there been harness racing there, there’s been thoroughbred racing, a stock car race, snowmobile races, and motorcycle races on that track. It’s part of what Northville is all about and it’s integrated into our downtown. It’s bittersweet.”
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