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DEMISE OF GRANDSTANDS MAY YANK REINS ON HORSE RACING IN PAYSON

SHARE DEMISE OF GRANDSTANDS MAY YANK REINS ON HORSE RACING IN PAYSON

When the old grandstands at the Payson Downs Racetrack are demolished this summer, the city's future of horse racing could be destroyed with them.

Wednesday night, the Payson City Council voted 3-2 to advertise for bids to tear down the grandstands at Payson Downs. The grandstands were damaged extensively during winds from the recent microburst storm, and officials have been examining the area to determine how costly repairs might be.After determining that roof repairs alone would cost the city $16,000, the majority of council members - Councilmen Kirk Mittelman and Bob Provstgaard, along with Fred Swain, the city's mayor pro-tem - said the grandstand has become a liability.

Earlier this year, the council opted not to budget expenses for Labor Day racing at the track, a traditional part of the city's annual Golden Onion Days Celebration.

Outraged residents, including members of the Payson Racing Association, say the actions may just be a taste of things to come. Some say that city leaders are hoping to turn the entire track into a new subdivision.

"There is some feeling that your intent, by not having races and razing the grandstand, that this is the end of Payson racing," said John Nielsen, secretary for the 44-member racing association, to the council. "These are real concerns and we'd really like to know what is going to happen. There's a tremendous amount of time and money invested in the track."

PRA member Steve Bona estimates that the group has put more than $200,000 in improvements to the track over the past decade. Additionally, members say that they and the 29 families renting stalls at the race track/-eques-tri-an park contribute between $200,000 to $300,000 each year to the local economy.

Members and some residents wanted the city, which owns the property, to repair or restore the grandstand, which along with the track was established near the turn of the century by a local doctor, L.D. Stewart. Nearly 300 Payson residents signed a petition opposing the demolition of the grandstands.

"It will be a great loss to this town, to our children and adults, if this grandstand is removed totally," said Judy Spencer, a parent of Payson 4-H members. "Things are being taught (at the track) that cannot be taught in the classroom."

Councilwoman Kay Furniss, who with Councilman Jim Griffin opposed the action, said the council should have a clear picture of what will be done with the track before taking any action. Furniss added that though racing activities have declined at Payson Downs, there are opportunities for more local races since Evanston's Wyoming Downs is trimming back its schedule.

"I can't support taking action without knowing what affect it will have on other options at the track," Furniss said. "This action will close a lot of options."

After taking the action, the council approved scheduling a special session Wednesday, June 29, to discuss further plans for the future of the Payson Downs Racetrack. The 6 p.m. meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at the Payson City offices, 429 W. Utah Ave.