Thursday, December 02, 1999

Turfway Park sprucing up to attract more fans

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Turfway Park continues to play dress up to attract new fans.

        Finishing touches are being put on new boxes of spruce and pines planted in the apron — spots of green to jazz up the blacktopped area where fans hang out to watch racing. The greenery is part of a bigger, $100,000-plus plan to attract more and new fans to Turfway and to horse racing in general.

        Officials hope to do that, in part, by making Turfway a little less austere.

        “It's just to give it some liveliness and some green,” said Keith Howard, track landscaper. “Then in the warmer months, we'll design some beautiful flower beds in them.”

        The evergreen beds are the latest in a spate of new things. Already done: a gravel strip between fans and the outside track rail is gone, letting fans get about 30 feet closer to the horses; and fans partied in the infield during the track's big fall race day.

        They're cosmetic changes, track president Bob Elliston says, but they also promote the bigger purpose of bringing more people closer to the sport. The new look can be spread far and wide thanks to the hundreds of simulcasting outlets that get Turfway's signal and to the live network TV coverage of the track's big spring race.

        The cash to pay for the spruce-up comes from the new owners, Harrah's, Keeneland and Dreamport, a partnership that bought the track last March for $37 million. They've promised to use their combination of horse racing, gaming and technology experience to help the Florence track overcome the sagging fan base problem that troubles the sport.

        That means, they say, making the place more customer-friendly and offering more activities to attract people, such as the concert series that en tertained fans this fall.

        Next up in the renovation plans: Turning part of the parking lot into a park. A $1 million new roof is being put on now.


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