Hazel Park Raceway closes after nearly 70 years

HAZEL PARK, Mich. (WXYZ) - Hazel Park Raceway is closing after nearly 70 years of harness racing, the track announced on Thursday.

The announcement was made at a staff meeting on Thursday morning. According to the track, they have entered into an agreement to sell its assets.

It includes about 90 employees and the racetrack says it will try to offer transition services to affected employees to aid in their search for new employment.

“Over the past 25 years, the gaming industry has dramatically changed throughout the country. Clearly, this has had a significant impact on the proud tradition of horseracing throughout Michigan," the raceway said in a release. "For nearly 70 years, Hazel Park Raceway has appreciated the hard work and support of both employees and fans, as well as the economic and entertainment value this venue has brought to the community."

"It's a terrible thing, I've been racing ever since I was a kid," veteran horse racer James Jackson said. "I'm 72 years old and I've been a leading trainer in Michigan for 50 years. I've never seen anything like this."

The load-in day for trainers and horses was on Wednesday, just a day before the closure.

Don Pankewicz, another horse racer, said he has to turn around and head home after riving 14 hours on Wednesday to get horses here.

According to the track’s website, it was first developed as an auto race track in 1948 before but went bankrupt before it opened its doors. A local businessman bought the property and built the horsetrack.

The first harness race at Hazel Park Raceway was held in 1953 and set a record attendance on July 12, 1975 when more than 15,000 people attended and bet more than $1.425 million.

Opening night was scheduled for May 4, according to an event on the raceway's Facebook page, and races were expected to continue Friday and Saturday nights until Sept. 15.

The city of Hazel Park released this statement:

"The City of Hazel Park learned this morning that the Hazel Park Raceway closed its doors for good at 1:00 AM. The Raceway struggled for more than 20 years under a very unfavorable regulatory environment in the State of Michigan. The Raceway as a huge part of Hazel Park's history for nearly 70 years. We have learned the Raceway owners are negotiating the sale of the property to a developer. While we are sorry to see this iconic entertainment venue close, we are looking forward to bringing even more exciting new development to the City of Hazel Park."

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