SBJ/March 29 - April 4, 2004/Facilities

Churchill Downs saves a little clubhouse space for NBC, Visa reps

Representa-tives of event network NBC and Visa, the $5 million title sponsor of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing, won't be relocated to the 77,000-square-foot infield tent at Churchill Downs housing other sponsors and celebrities for the 130th Kentucky Derby in Louisville.

Those officials will watch the race from the track's clubhouse, which is in the midst of a $95 million makeover, the second phase of the track's $121 million renovation. Derby Day is May 1.

"We treat them a little different," said Tyrone Tubbs, the track's vice president of sales. "A portion of Millionaire's Row is still intact with limited seating on floors four through six. A remnant area is still there. Those are not the best seats ... but those people are to be handled with extreme care."

About 3,500 VIPs otherwise will be forced to experience the Derby from a unique perspective, inside the tent or on a viewing platform outside the structure. Collectively, the area is called the Hospitality Village.

All the Derby sponsors, which include Coors, wine and spirit producer Brown-Forman, Pepsi, American Airlines and Crown Royal, have known since the end of last year's event that they could be temporarily displaced this year, Tubbs said.

"We knew early on in the construction process that there was going to be the possibility of relocating key constituents and that it would only be a one-year occurrence, that come 2005, we would be back in regular form," Tubbs said.

"We haven't had any sponsors that have had issues," he said. "Right after the Derby last year, we went face to face with key sponsors and kept them involved in the process, communicating with them throughout the year. We have worked with their senior executives to make sure they have a good experience."

STOCKTON OPTIONS: The Class A Stockton (Calif.) Ports' new ballpark will contain signature features similar to a pair of major league facilities, Fenway Park in Boston and SBC Park in San Francisco, said John Katz, the team's general manager.

The Ports’ new home will sport unusual outfield dimensions.

"My favorite part is that it's only 300 feet to left field with a 12-foot-high wall, sort of a mini-Monster," he said. "The wall juts out from 300 at the left-field foul pole to 380 to 385 feet toward left center."

In right field, the distance measures just 326 feet for a home run. "It's 380 feet to the Stockton Deep Water Channel," Katz said, referring to a local version of San Francisco's McCovey Cove. Stockton is 85 miles east of San Francisco.

Groundbreaking is Friday for the $14.5 million facility, scheduled to open in March 2005. The Ports are investing $1.2 million with the city financing the balance of construction.

HKS designed the 5,000-seat ballpark. It is part of the Stockton Events Center, which will include a midsize arena. The Ports, a member of the California League, this year will play their last season at Billy Hebert Field, which opened in 1927.

OFF THE PLATE: Dan Smith, a 27-year employee of Centerplate based in New York and New Jersey, resigned his position as senior vice president after the company's recent IPO led to a restructuring of positions within the concessions and facility management firm.

"It's worked out well for me and the company," he said. "I'm toying between staying in this industry and going into the entrepreneurial or restaurant areas. The good news is that I can pick and choose. I'll spend a couple of weeks on the sideline before making a decision."

Smith started with the firm in 1977 as a vendor at Yankee Stadium when he was in high school. At that time, Canteen Corp. had the food contract. The company later evolved into Volume Services, Volume Services America and Centerplate.

SODEXHO'S A GO: The MLS Dallas Burn selected Sodexho to provide food service for the team's 25,000-seat soccer stadium in Frisco, Texas, sources said. The stadium is scheduled to open next year.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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