$100m deal on table for Pukekohe training facility

By Michael Guerin

The Auckland Trotting Club may have secured a miracle lifeline to bring it back from the brink of financial disaster.

Club members will next week be asked to vote on the potential sale of the Pukekohe training facility for which the club has been offered $100 million.

The sale would need to approval of the members and Harness Racing New Zealand and also the re-zoning of the land on the outskirts of Pukekohe township but if it proceeds the ATC will be dug out of one of the deepest and darkest holes in the history of New Zealand racing.

The club was left owing close to $100million after major issues during the building of apartment and retail complexes at Alexandra Park.

The issues were fixed and the impressive apartments have been sold and most of the retail space leased out but the ATC faced enormous debts that threatened its survival, which would have almost certainly have ended harness racing in Auckland forever.

A court case against the one of the original contractors recently resulted in a successful judgement for the ATC who are now taking further legal action to recoup some of their losses from that contractor.

The current debt is around $100 million, with enormously monthly interest repayments but another large piece of land at Alexandra Park has been sold for $51.6million so the club’s mammoth debts will be halved.

But that still leaves them owing between $50-60 million, at a time of rising interest rates, so the potential sale of the land at Pukekohe will clear the ATC of debt and leave a huge cash windfall.

A significant portion of that will be needed to source land for a new training centre for the trainers who currently use the Pukekohe facility but one upside of that is it can be purpose built and more modern.

That money and the income from the retail spaces leased out on the lower levels of the apartment buildings will allow the ATC to raise stakes and maintain Alexandra Park at the level needed.

The debts are uncomfortably enormous in the scale of the New Zealand racing industry and when ATC members and those inside the harness racing industry look at what the newly-formed Auckland Thoroughbred Racing are doing, and their far more positive outcomes, the gravity of the opportunity squandered will hit home.

There were undoubted failings on the ATC side, including a lack of experience in project oversight and a major failing was firstly not entering into a joint venture for the developments or simply selling the land with no developments risk, as Auckland Thoroughbred Racing did with the Ellerslie hill.

Another major failing was their choice of one of their original contractors who ATC insiders are adamant is mainly to blame for the fiasco.

But that blame game isn’t going to help pay the interest on the loans and if Pukekohe land can be re-zoned and the $100million deal goes through harness racing in the region will have been saved without the sale of Alexandra Park.

And the harness racing industry not just in Auckland will have dodged the most deadly bullet in New Zealand racing history.

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