May 12, 2009

Hialeah renovation poses big challenges

Hialeah, Fla., racetrack owner John Brunetti has a big task ahead of him if he plans to restore the shuttered, once-proud facility, observers say.

Experts contend it will take $100 million for the controversial Brunetti to revamp and reopen Hileah Park, which he shut down in 2001 after a bitter struggle with local politicians whom he said had conspired with his competitors, The Miami Herald reported.

The passage of a new gambling bill by the Florida Legislature this year would enable Brunetti to install lucrative slot machines at Hileah after two years of quarter-horse racing, which in turn would generate enough revenue to eventually bring thoroughbred racing back to Hileah, the newspaper said.

But critics say Brunetti has made enemies in the horse racing industry. State Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, said Brunetti was to blame for Hialeah's downfall because he blew previous legislative breaks and antagonized horsemen.

Others say he won't be able to raise the financing during a recession, while supporters counter that Brunetti's own substantial wealth and the prospective income from the expanded gambling now allowed will entice lenders and investors, the Herald reported.