The 149 acres of property off of the Corbin bypass, where Keeneland wants to construct a quarter horse racing track and entertainment venue, is now in the zone.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Corbin Planning Zoning Commission, the commissioners approved a motion to rezone the property between Allison and Buchanan Blvd. from industrial to public use, which clears another hurdle for the long-delayed project.
“I think we need to meet one more hurdle here,” said Commission Chair Henry Heaberlin.
“I think it is a grand idea if we can pull it off.”
The only issue brought up by the commission during a public hearing on the proposed zoning change was whether the road improvements promised by the state were still in the works.
Heaberlin noted the $3 million in planned improvements included dedicated turning lanes and traffic lights at the intersections.
As required by law, the proposed zoning change had been advertised in the area so that adjoining property owners would be notified.
Several spoke at the hearing, questioning how the development would affect their property.
One property owner, who voiced concerns about whether a horse barn would be near her property, was satisfied when shown a layout that indicated no part of the track or facilities would be next to her property.
Several others asked whether the proposed change would also change the zoning of their property.
Property owners on Young’s Creek Road were advised that they were not in the city limits and so were not under the jurisdiction of the commission.
Another property owner asked about changes to the creek that runs through the property, and under the bypass.
Officials replied that nothing would be done to impact the water flow.
A representative from nearby Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation offered the company’s support for the project, explaining that the current zoning has failed to lure any developers to the property.
“I think all of the questions were answered here,” said Commissioner Terry Skinner when asked if he had any further concern about the project prior to it being called for a vote.
The commission’s recommendation now goes on to the Corbin City Commission for its approval.
Vince Gabbert, vice president and chief operating officer of Keeneland, who attended the meeting as part of Keeneland contingent, said afterward that the next hurdles involve finalizing the designs and securing the necessary racing license.
Gabbert said the application has been submitted and now it is a matter of waiting for the racing commission to approve it.
“As soon as we have that in hand, we will be ready to move forward,” Gabbert said.
Among the issues Keeneland officials faced as they attempted to secure a racing license was a dispute with the former harness racing track in Floyd County over a supposed agreement to purchase its license.
Initial plans were to purchase the required racing license from Appalachian Racing, Inc., the owner of the defunct Thunder Ridge harness racing track in Floyd County.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has issued eight racing licenses to facilities across the state.
However, upon discovering the existence of an unissued ninth license, Keeneland officials applied to the commission for that license, changing the name of the proposed Corbin facility to, “Cumberland Run.”
With Floyd County potentially liable for the bond debt, a lawsuit was filed to force Keeneland to purchase the Floyd County license.
Floyd County officials noted that if the county were held liable for the debt, it would be bankrupt.
The case moved to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 2016 and is currently in the hands of the Kentucky Supreme Court.
In July, the $2.2 million outstanding bonds were paid off.
The license has since been returned to the state and the racing commission now has two available licenses.
“We will be ready as soon as we are awarded the license,” Gabbert said adding that there is no timetable for the racing commission to make its decision.
In September it was announced that Churchill Downs had joined Keeneland in a partnership to open the Corbin facility and a second facility in Christian County in southwestern Kentucky.
However, in a statement released hours after the announcement, Frank Kling, Chairman of the racing commission, and Vice Chairman John Roach, stated they had no plans to consider any new racing licenses.
Gabbert said once construction begins, the plan is to have the facility ready and open for business within 14 months.
Gabbert said while the layout of the facility may change somewhat, the plans remain essentially the same.
The project includes a 1,723-foot strait racing track, along with barn facilities an entertainment center and grandstand. In addition, the property has six out parcels for commercial development and property allocated for a hotel/motel facility.
“We are still working through all of that,” Gabbert said. “That will be part of the design as far as what else would be on the property, what types of restaurants and those sorts of things.”
Gabbert said the goal remains to host 10-12 days of racing throughout the summer.
The facility would include 250 “historical racing machines.”
The slot style gaming machines have been the subject of much scrutiny, and an ongoing court case. Opponents claim they are little more than run-of-the-mill casino-style slot machines that are illegal in Kentucky. Supporters say the results the machines produce are based on past races and that wagering on them is considered “pari-mutuel,” just like normal horse racing. Essentially, bettors are betting against other bettors, not against the facility housing the machines.
The machines are currently allowed at tracks in the state with active horse racing and track operators say they serve a vital role in allowing race purses to be higher.