State Senate President Robert Stivers, R–Manchester, attended the Corbin City Commission’s regular meeting Monday night where he accepted the 2019 Friend of Cities Award from the Kentucky League of Cities, and took the time to answer questions concerning the state of the proposed horse racing track in Corbin, and the necessary legislation to permit Corbin to annex property in Laurel County.
Five years after ground was to have been broken, the proposed quarter horse racing track slated to be built off of the Corbin bypass remains just a vision.
The hurdle Keeneland has been facing is securing a racing license to operate the facility that will be known as Cumberland Run.
Stivers said with the new Beshear administration is still working to fill out the various governing bodies, including the Kentucky Racing Commission. It remains to be seen whether the new commission will take any application on the application for one of the vacant licenses.
“As comfortable as I felt several years ago about this, I cannot feel comfortable or uncomfortable one way or another because of that process and changeover related to changing administrations,” Stivers said noting that the Beshear administration has yet to announce who will serve on the racing commission or who will serve as executive director of the commission.
Stivers compared it to after the 2018 election in Corbin when Suzie Razmus was elected mayor.
“You don’t know what direction they are going to go until they get a little bit further into it,” Stivers said.
“I’m not being critical of the new administration,” Stivers said noting Beshear has been in office for less than a week. “It is a big ship they are driving over there.”
Ground was broken on the project in fall 2014 with the goal of opening the facility in 2016.
However, numerous issues, including an infestation of the wooded area of the property, have delayed construction.
Following a meeting of the Corbin Planning and Zoning Commission in October 2017, during which the property was rezoned for public use, Vince Gabbert, vice president and chief operating officer of Keeneland said securing the racing license is the last remaining hurdle.
“As soon as we have that in hand, we will be ready to move forward,” Gabbert said.
Keeneland had been working to purchase the required racing license from Appalachian Racing, Inc., the owner of the defunct harness racing track in Floyd County.
At the time the racing commission had issued racing licenses to facilities across the state.
However, it was discovered that there was a ninth license, which was unissued.
Upon learning of this, Keeneland officials applied for the available license.
With Floyd County potentially liable for the bond debt, a lawsuit was filed to force the company to purchase that license.
In July 2017, the $2.2 million in outstanding bonds were paid off rendering the lawsuit moot.
The Floyd County license was returned to the racing commission.
Keeneland joined forces with Churchill Downs in September 2017 on the Corbin project and a second racing facility in Oak Grove in Christian County near Fort Campbell.
However, hours after the announcement of the joint venture, Racing Commission Chairman Franklin S. Kling and Vice Chairman John Roach announced they had no plans to consider new applications for the vacant racing licenses.
The track in Corbin is to be constructed on 149 acres of property off of the Corbin bypass between Allison and Buchanan Blvd.
Gabbert said previously that once construction begins, the plan is to have the facility ready and open for business within 14 months.
The project includes a 1,723-foot straight 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.
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
While there is noo law precluding Corbin from annexing property in Laurel County, a court ruling prevents a city from annexing into a county where it wasn’t originally chartered.
Stivers had attempted on multiple occasions to insert legislative language that would permit cities to annex across county lines.
In the past, Stivers has touted this as a win-win for both the city and county when speaking about Corbin and Laurel County.
Stivers reiterated that Monday night noting he plans to attempt to get the language passed through the legislature in the upcoming session.
“This is something I want to do,” Stivers said.
Stivers said he believes inaccurate information about what the language would and would not permit a municipality to do concerning annexation, and what it would mean for the affected areas has led to opposition.
“There has been a little bit more support for it this time,” Stivers said adding that if Corbin is able to annex property in that area, it would be a benefit to the Laurel County School System.
“It has the most potential to increase their property values of anything in their respective area,” Stivers said.
One of the most often voiced concerns from those opposing the language is the possibility of forced annexation.
While Corbin has annexed along several roadways in the past, including West Ky. 312 to the Laurel County line, and Fifth Street to U.S. 25W, it has not forcibly annexed any of the adjoining property into the city.
In addition, Stivers said the legislative language would require the county fiscal court to approve such annexation.
“Voluntary annexation would be nothing but a win for everyone involved,” Stivers said.
Friend of the Cities
JD Chaney, the Executive Director of the Kentucky League of Cities cited Stivers’ work on behalf of legislation that benefits cities across the commonwealth, including amendments to workman’s compensation and arbitration.
“The past two or three sessions, Senator Stivers has been a key champion,” Chaney said.
“You can’t name anyone else in Frankfort that has more of a grasp on the state’s policy issues in a comprehensive way.”
Chaney added that when it comes to such legislation, Stivers has not only been a friend to the seven cities in the six counties that make up his district, but to municipalities across the state.
“I’m really thankful that he is in the chair that he sits in,” Chaney said. “I think Kentucky is a better place for it. This community is a better place for it as well.”
Stivers said it is one of his goals to ensure local governments are in the best situation possible, noting that for many areas, the city provides essential services such as utilities.
“It is incumbent upon us that cities stay strong,” Stivers said.