Archive for Thursday, August 7, 2008

Woodlands good for entire metro area

August 7, 2008

A sad chapter in Wyandotte County history will end later this month when The Woodlands officially shuts its doors. I, for one, hope that a last minute reprieve can be worked out, which will allow the 20-year-old track to continue operating. Certainly, many of us had hoped that the passage of legislation and voter approval of slot machines at the track would allow The Woodlands to continue operation.

It is unfortunate that the overwhelming will of the people of Wyandotte County isn't being followed. If you remember, about 82 percent of those voting wanted to see the track have slots. And, as I said earlier, I hope that there will be some changes that will allow the slots to be installed and "here comes Woody" will resonate at the site on Leavenworth Road. The Woodlands provides employment and recreation to many throughout the metro area.

Do you remember when the track opened in 1989? It was the hottest ticket in town. At one time, reservations were only taken during a couple of hours on Monday morning. After that, there were no tables available. I remember that in the few times I attended, I thought the restaurant served some of the best prime rib in the city!

Clubs and organizations had meetings at The Woodlands. There were areas where the group could dine and then enjoy the races. Since I'm not a gambler, most of my visits to The Woodlands were at such events.

One of the problems is that the track didn't generate surrounding development. Earlier proposals showed that there would be lots of shopping, restaurants and hotels in the area adjacent to the track. This certainly didn't happen and may be one of the reasons that The Woodlands fell on hard times.

In its earlier days, the facility was attractive with nice landscaping. It was certainly a show place for Wyandotte County. The Woodlands was unique in that it was a "dual track" and had separate grandstands and tracks for greyhound racing and for horse racing. I will always wonder if the cost of two facilities contributed to some of the track's financial woes.

The Woodlands made contributions to charities and was, quite simply, a good neighbor. Who would have thought that in just a few years it would be floundering? No, racing never seemed to get the foothold in Kansas that many thought it would. The track in Wichita closed when voters nixed gambling in Sedgwick County last year. The Pittsburg track lasted only a very short time.

So, what happened? The answer is simple - the Missouri casinos siphoned off revenue and spectators and soon The Woodlands was in trouble. Even approval of betting on races in other parts of the country wasn't enough to save the track.

I wonder how many people remember that there was a concentrated effort to locate the racing facility in Edwardsville? Dr. David Schoenstadt, owner of the Kansas City Comets, proposed to locate the track at I-435 and Woodend. His plan was unique in that it had a moveable fence. The idea was that the fence would be in and the track configured for greyhound racing. At the end of the greyhound season, the fence would be moved back and the area reconfigured for horse racing. It was a good plan that would have allowed for only one grandstand area and much lower construction costs.

I served on a steering committee for the track. We held public meetings and, in general, there was tremendous support for the plan. Earlier, I accompanied the Edwardsville City Council on a trip to Iowa to view a greyhound racing facility.

Most people believed that the Schoenstadt plan and the Edwardsville location would be the ideal site for the race track. It wasn't near any residential area and there was easy access from I-435. In short, we all expected the Edwardsville site would be the winner. Most of those involved discounted the dual track plan as being far too expensive.

I can remember the shock and disbelief when it was announced that the race tracks would be located on Leavenworth Road. Within a reasonably short period of time The Woodlands was "off and running."

Looking back on the situation, Edwardsville was the real winner in that it didn't get the track. The area where the track was planned is now a bustling industrial park and is the home to excellent trucking firms and other outstanding businesses. Edwardsville can certainly be proud of its industrial park and is far better off than it would have been with the race track.

Yes, I hope by the time you read this, efforts are being made to resurrect The Woodlands and keep the facility viable. The Woodlands is good for the entire metro area.

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