If government agencies meet deadlines, the Clinton Phipps Racetrack on St. Thomas and the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack on St. Croix could be running live horse races and casinos within 22 months.
The reasons for the holdups are different for each island, according to Ted Schieffer, vice president of operations for VIGL.
On St. Croix, land needs to be rezoned as maritime instead of aviation for the Federal Aviation Agency, an issue that has been going on for years. In March, the V.I. Port Authority stated it would transfer the racetrack’s real estate from its aviation division to its marine division.
Schieffer said the governor and the Port Authority are due to meet on Sept. 15 and could wrap up that loose end.
On St. Thomas, VIGL can’t move forward before the Board of Land Use within the Department of Planning and Natural Resources accepts VIGL’s environmental plan for the wetlands on the racetrack property. Schieffer believes VIGL’s plan is thorough, contains a sufficient number of environmental studies and will be approved by the board when they meet on Sept. 13.
“We’ve got to get in there and make things good for the horses and St. Croix,” Schieffer said.
Then, with the final selection of a contractor, they will be ready to go. Both properties have been leveled, and the land is being elevated for the placement of barns on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Although VIGL would like to reopen both facilities around the same time, there is more work to be done on St. Croix than on St. Thomas. The facilities will be mirror images of each other. Both will have a barn, a casino with 200 slot machines, a grandstand seating 2,500 people, areas for special events and, of course, the horse racing. In total, the facilities will hold between 6,000 and 7,000 people.
“What everybody is missing is that we are trying to build two amazing facilities – for entertainment, shows, banquets, and residents are suffering because we can’t complete them,” Schieffer said.
VIGL signed a 20-year lease agreement with the V.I. government in 2016 to market and hold horse races in the territory. They committed to a $27 million investment and have spent around $5 million already on repairs and land purchase. The casinos must be built and a racino license issued before the franchise agreement starts.