After deteriorating for decades, Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park is a dangerous eyesore that is a growing concern for those in the facility and residents in the surrounding area, said state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) – who announced Monday that he is authoring a bill that would require millions of dollars for capital improvement projects at the decaying venue.
“There’s currently a great race going on and, sadly, Aqueduct is finishing last,” Goldfeder said.
The South Queens lawmaker was joined by civic leaders and union workers to announce his bill, which was filed in Albany Tuesday and which would mandate that 4 percent of annual revenue raised at Resorts World Casino go directly to Aqueduct. Currently, that 4 percent – which represented about $31.4 million last year – is allocated for the New York Racing Association, which oversees Aqueduct, as a whole, and Goldfeder said most of the millions of dollars generated in Queens goes to the two other horse tracks in the state – Saratoga or Belmont.
“If you had to bet between Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct racetrack, Aqueduct would finish last place every time,” Goldfeder said. “It’s unacceptable that this once community gem and national treasure has become an eyesore and serious danger to our families and neighbors in southern Queens. It’s time that NYRA stop neglecting our community and make the necessary investment to ensure that Aqueduct is safe and that we continue the economic growth that we need in Queens.”
Eric Wing, a spokesman for NYRA, said the racing organization will “review any legislation that is introduced.”
“We have a responsibility to all three of our tracks,” Wing said in an email.
In the past year, NYRA has spent “well over” $5 million on capital improvements at Aqueduct, Wing said.
“And we plan to spend millions more on additional improvements at Aqueduct this year,” he continued in the email. “Anyone who joins the thousands of people who come to Aqueduct every single day can easily get a firsthand look at the many recent improvements.”
Such projects at the South Ozone Park spot include a simulcasting center that will open in April, new video boards and HD cameras and monitors, upgraded flooring and lighting, and new painting throughout the facility. NYRA also debuted the “Aqueduct murals program” last November that featured the work of 13 internationally prominent street artists on the site’s first-floor walls.
But area civic leaders and residents say the projects are not enough to address the years of decay.
“NYRA has been taking this homegrown money and let it deteriorate,” said Frank Gulluscio, a community advocate from Howard Beach. “… I grew up here, and I’ve seen the deterioration of this building and this sport.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year criticized Aqueduct, calling it “a waste” during a meeting with the New York Daily News’ editorial board, and at a NYRA meeting at the end of August officials reportedly said they were looking at a variety of ways to give the financially-strapped racing organization a boost – including ending Aqueduct’s reign as one of the three thoroughbred horse-racing tracks in the state.
Goldfeder said that NYRA needs to make a decision as to whether or not it wants Aqueduct to continue as a race track but said the status quo cannot continue.
The lawmaker said his bill would help to create numerous jobs through capital projects at Aqueduct. While he stressed that he has no concrete vision for what could be built there, he did say there are numerous possibilities, from a hotel to activity centers.
“Resorts World was only the beginning of the potential opportunities at Aqueduct and an infusion of funding for further responsible development would create thousands of jobs and help our economy continue to grow,” Goldfeder said. “It’s about time that NYRA stop giving our money away and invest in the community that is raising it.”
By Anna Gustafson