Sunday, July 20, 2003

Churchill Downs paying high stakes for nearby houses

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Churchill Downs Inc. is paying big bucks for small houses near its signature racetrack.

The company that owns Churchill Downs has been buying property for years to stitch together bigger parking lots. As the number of homes diminishes, the prices the company is willing to pay have gone up.

CDI recently paid $300,000 for a 1,400-square-foot house on less than a quarter-acre on Homeview Drive, which is just west of the main gate. The company is offering about $150,000 for houses on nearly a dozen smaller lots behind the track's grandstand.

Real estate agents estimate other homes in the area not coveted by the racetrack sell mainly for $50,000 to $70,000.

"That's the way it works," said David Sweazy, vice president of operations at the track. "About four or five years ago, we were paying $45,000 to $50,000 for the homes in that area, now the going price is about $140,000 to $150,000."

Churchill Downs has purchased more than 100 properties in the area over the past decade, Sweazy said. But he said the buying spree is nearly done, with only nine houses left.

No amount of money is enough to sway some homeowners, however.

Marion Magel, 77, has lived in his house on Homeview all his life and isn't about to move now.

"I was born here; I'd just as soon die here," said Magel.

Churchill Downs first approached him more than 10 years ago, he said. As recently as three years ago he was offered about $100,000 for his house.

"I told them, 'No,' " he said. "I inherited this house and don't want to put a price on it. Last year they offered to have a meeting, but I didn't accept it. I'm still satisfied with staying here longer. I don't have too many years left. Besides, I don't have any children to leave the money to."

Sweazy said Churchill isn't going to force anyone to leave.

"If they don't want to sell, I'll leave them alone. I can't force them," he said. "It's a waiting game. When they are ready to sell, and there's a reasonable price, we will buy. But there's no timetable."

Trisha Gaines, who lives with her husband and son, said they told Churchill last spring that they weren't interested in selling, but now they're ready.

"We've been talking, but we haven't found a place," she said. "I hate the thought of moving, but it's time. I've lived in the area, in sight of the spires, for more than 35 years. But it's not the same class of neighborhood it was 10 years ago."

Ira Hikes said she was treated fairly when the home at 932 Homeview that she had lived in for more than 50 years was sold to the track more than two years ago for $100,000.

Hikes said Churchill officials "gave us a fair price; they were very nice."

Why is Churchill bidding the properties up? "At this point, there's no master plan to use the area for anything other than parking," Sweazy said. "We are in dire need of parking, parking and more parking."

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