LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Churchill Downs will add nearly 2,400 grandstand seats that include a rooftop VIP lounge area as part of a $14.5 million project unveiled Tuesday, the latest leg in a series of expansions to maximize revenue from the Kentucky Derby.
The renovations — near the top of the homestretch and the Derby starting gate — target a section of the historic Louisville track that was largely bypassed in previous upgrades as Churchill's parent company has spent more than $150 million on improvements since 2001.
The new venue will be ready in time for the Derby and Kentucky Oaks next May, track officials said. The Oaks, a race for 3-year-old fillies, is run the day before the Derby in what has become a two-day revenue bonanza for the track's parent company.
The project was approved by the Churchill Downs Inc. board this week. It will create the Grandstand Terrace, featuring new second- and third-floor seating and the Rooftop Garden, a hospitality lounge area for VIPs.
The work will include 51,000 square feet of new space behind and next to the track's current grandstand seats, the track said.
"The Grandstand Terrace and Rooftop Garden offer a rare opportunity to create new seating for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks," said track President Kevin Flanery.
Churchill said it will significantly increase the number of betting windows, food and beverage concessions and restrooms in that area of the grandstand. The track said 14,000 square feet in the grandstand will be renovated as part of that project.
The improved amenities will be easily accessible to race fans in more than 20,000 seats — more than a third of the track's reserved seating — on Derby and Oaks days. The track's infield also fills with race fans on those big race days.
Grandstand fans had let the track know that improving and expanding concessions, wagering and restroom facilities were at the top of their wish list, Flanery said.
He said the improvements will make for "improved service and a more enjoyable experience during the premier weekend in American racing."
Attendance at this year's Kentucky Derby — the first leg of the Triple Crown — was 151,616, down slightly due to rainy conditions. Last year's attendance was 165,307. The Kentucky Oaks drew 113,820 spectators this year.
The additional grandstand seating will be the first at the track since the Jockey Club Suites in three new floors of grandstand space opened in September 2003. The additional seating is the first on the grandstand's second and third floors since 1953.
The Grandstand Terrace will include six new reserved seating sections on the second and third floors and about 24,000 square feet of mostly covered space on the second floor that will offer food and beverage stations, wagering and restrooms.
The Rooftop Garden will add 13,000 square feet that will feature table seating and a VIP section for Derby and Oaks, the track said.
Pricing for seating in the new venue hasn't been set yet, the track said.
Demolition work is set to begin Thursday to clear away portions of the grandstand to make way for the new structure, the track said.
This year's big renovation at the track was a new VIP section known as The Mansion. Churchill spent about $3 million on the new section, built inside the former media center and offering some of the best views of the track. It seats about 300 people, and tickets for the sold-out section ranged from $7,000 to $12,500 as a Derby and Oaks package this past spring.
The track spent about $122 million to renovate the clubhouse and grandstand. Churchill also installed permanent lighting for the main dirt track and turf course in recent years. Night racing has become a fan favorite during the handful of racing cards run under the lights at Churchill.