Council leases GRW to track owner

The bets could be back on at the G. Rollie White Complex in Brady if new facility leasee Jim Dunnagan receives his operating license from the Texas Racing Commission (TRC). In a last-minute special called meeting held Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. in Council Chambers, the Brady City Council voted four to one (councilman Jesse McAnally opposed) to approve a 10-year lease with Dunnagan to utilize the former racing facility for pari-mutuel and simulcast racing. “I voted no on this issue because I wanted a public hearing on this issue. I want everybody to be involved in this decision, not just two or three,” said councilman Jesse McAnally. “I think the possibility of the track is a good idea, but I would like to see the public be more involved.” Pari-mutuel races got off to an unsuccessful start in Brady in the late 1980s. Early preparations and construction began in 1987, and the track was opened for business in 1989; however, dubbed as the “guinea pig” of pari-mutuel races in Texas because it was rushed to be the first race track in the state, the Heart of Texas Racing at G. Rollie White Downs never made it into its second season. Experienced in the horse racing industry, Dunnagan purchased Heart of Texas Racing, Inc. through bankruptcy proceedings. He owns the majority interest in the race track in Weatherford and according to Brady City Manager Merle Taylor, Dunnagan has a lot of excess equipment (tractors, trucks, television monitors, computers, etc.) that are identical to what he would be required to have at the G. Rollie White Complex. As the new owner of Heart of Texas Racing, Inc., Dunnagan stepped into a suspended license with the Texas Racing Commission. The overall view of members of the council was that since a license already exists, it might lighten the leg work in obtaining approval from TRC. In recent years, the Brady/McCulloch County Chamber of Commerce has been authorized by the city to act as the “booking agent” for the G. Rollie White Complex. A number of attractions sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce are currently held annually at the complex. Mike Trollinger with the McCulloch County Industrial Foundation expressed his opinion about the business venture between the City of Brady and Dunnagan. He questioned what kind of impact the races would have on the community, especially those organizations currently utilizing the facility such as the McCulloch County Junior Livestock Association, Bad Company Rodeo which coordinates annually through Chamber executives for use of the existing rodeo arena as well as the Rotary Club which operates a concession stand during such events. “These organizations have a vested interest in what goes on out there,” said Trollinger. “We live in rodeo country, and we probably need to have a rodeo facility of some sort. “One of my concerns is that we make sure that we don’t do anything to jeopardize the Junior Livestock Association. That organization is so important for the City of Brady and the kids, both in town and out in the county, we have to make sure that we don’t do anything to hurt that particular effort as well as other projects that the Chamber is trying to promote. “We don’t want to run off a business just because we get tunnel vision,’ Trollinger explained. ‘We have to look things through. I understand the importance of development and tourism, but it’s not important if we hurt the Junior Livestock Association and the Chamber of Commerce,” Trollinger said. After hearing the concerns of those in attendance Monday morning, both the council and Dunnagan explained that they have no intention of putting out the local organizations already accessing the facility. “This is all contingent on Dunnagan being able to get his license from the Texas Racing Commission,” said Taylor. “He had to have a lease stating that he has a facility before he even goes to Austin (for approval from the Texas Racing Commission).” Dunnagan anticipates generating $3-4 million per year with the beginning payroll estimated at $1.5 million per year for 75 people. According to Taylor, Dunnagan will be responsible for paying all the utilities and one percent of the gross income. “It would be approximately $36,000 a year through the lease agreement. He’ll upgrade the facilities free of charge to the city. “We’ll be stepping up from a $12-15,000 loss with the utilities at the facility to generating an income. In addition, the parks department wouldn’t be required to mow the grounds at the complex, and taxpayer money would no longer be utilized for general upkeep.” “Dunnagan is not trying to get a new license, he’s trying to get the old license renewed. “The payroll and increased jobs are just some of the minimum positive aspects for what this can bring to Brady, in addition to the repairs and maintenance to the facility.” Included in the lease with Dunnagan, the business venture will require no infrastructure improvements from the city. All the water, sewer and electricity lines are already in use at the facility, and according to Taylor, “It would be a complete turn around from a negative on the utilities to a positive. “He’s not asking for any tax abatements from any of the governmental entities, and he’s not asking for contributions from the Brady Economic Development Corporation or the McCulloch County Industrial Foundation. He’s not asking for any cash outlay from any group or governmental entity,” said Taylor. Aside from the increase in jobs that the race track would create, the council anticipates a boost in local motels, restaurants, gas stations, sales tax increases and feed stores. “Concrete plants and contractors’whether they specialize in electrical, plumbing, construction, painting, etc.’all of those people will be given an opportunity to participate in this expansion and relocation,” said Taylor. Not only will these contractors benefit from the potential for new growth, but also the county, area school districts and local merchants. “This is going to have a positive impact on every business as well as provide an opportunity for new jobs. There are no ends to what the spin-offs could be,” said Taylor. Should there be a conflict of interest between the Texas Racing Commission and UIL guidelines (since the Junior Livestock Association operates out of the G. Rollie White Complex) Dunnagan has committed to purchasing a metal facility if needed to relocate the association to additional property owned by either the city or county. If Dunnagan’s attempt to reinstate the racing license is approved, he plans to finish the restaurants in the top of the grandstands at the G. Rollie White Complex originally intended for completion in the late 1980s. Plans are also being made to complete the elevators and enclose the upper facilities to allow for the installation of an air-conditioning system. “Potentially, this could bring in major franchises like Taco Bell, Denny’s and HEB’whatever the traffic demands,” said Taylor. “Some of that will spring up almost instantly. “We have no intention of pushing smaller, local organizations aside with this new business venture. “If Dunnagan doesn’t get his license, it will be the same type of operation that it currently is today. The city won’t be out any money and the facility will still be available for those currently utilizing it,” Taylor said.

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