Gulfstream Park is placing its bets on some new ideas to boost its fortunes.
By Pat Dunnigan
Like every other horse-racing track in the country, Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach has been struggling. Attendance is stagnant, and the tracks aren't attracting younger fans. But Gulfstream Park is determined to beat the odds. Three months ago, it hired Scott Savin, a thoroughbred owner and former executive director of the National Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, to run the park. Savin has grand plans -- plans that may not sit well with racing's older, hard-core enthusiasts.
For starters, Savin has added weekend music concerts, a rock-climbing wall and an assortment of new food offerings that run from pizza to seared tuna Nicoise. A rooftop bar and grill offers live music and a "simulcasting happy hour." There's even a carousel to lure a new kind of patron to the track. "When your fan base is 55 and older, you're losing people all the time," says Savin. "We have to evolve, and we have to change."
He pictures a weekend crowd full of young families and fun-seekers a generation younger than the sport's current devotees -- perhaps drawn in by a pre-race show that combines a beginner's introduction to the sport with video clips of horse-racing scenes featured in well-known movies and television shows. Some of them, Savin admits, won't even come to see the main attraction. But that's OK, he says, because some will give horse racing a look, maybe even place a bet, courtesy of a free $2 ticket. "People really like our sport once they understand it," he says.
Measured against the overall racing industry, Gulfstream is holding its own, drawing about 13,000 on weekdays and 19,000 a day on weekends during its 63-day season, which starts in January and ends in March. The industry's standards these days, however, may not be good benchmarks: "When we don't shrink, everyone thinks we're doing well, which really wouldn't fly in any other business," says Savin.
Savin and Gulfstream owner Frank Stronach, a Canadian auto-parts magnate who has become one of the industry's most outspoken advocates for change, have even more ambitious improvements planned for the 61-year-old park. In April, they hope to break ground on a three-year, $100-million overhaul that will shrink the grandstands but add luxury boxes, a new clubhouse, a 5,000-sq.-ft. indoor arena and a giant sports bar.
The result, Savin says, will be something for everybody. "We know we're on the right track."
Boca Raton -- Software maker Daleen Technologies (Nasdaq: DALN) laid off 135 workers -- 27% of its workforce -- in response to a drop in sales to telecommunications companies. In Boca, 51 workers were laid off. The company makes software to manage customer billing. It went public in 1999 at $12 a share and has yet to turn a profit.
In another of several tech-company layoffs in the region, website developer Virtacon Corp. let 16 employees go in December in a move a company spokeswoman attributed to unrealized client projections. The company markets itself to government and educational clients as well as businesses.
Discount brokerage Shochet Securities, based in Hallandale, has signed former Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula to help launch the company's marketing campaign that will pitch Shochet as "the financial coach." The company is a subsidiary of Shochet Holding Corp. (Nasdaq-SHOC), which went public a year ago.
RailAmerica (Nasdaq-RAIL), based in Boca Raton, sold its South Central Tennessee Railroad. RailAmerica is the world's largest short-line and regional railroad operator.
First Union Corp. completed its acquisition of Boca Raton brokerage JWGenesis Financial Corp. for $103.2 million.
Boynton Beach -- A deal to outsource the manufacturing of some pagers, cell phones and other products will force layoffs of as many as 450 workers at Motorola's Boynton Beach plant. Another 350 employees will be transferred to the company's Plantation plant or offered jobs in Fort Worth, Texas, according to published reports. The $70-million deal calls for Toronto-based Celestica to buy Motorola plants in Dublin, Ireland, and Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and take over production of some Motorola products.
Broward County -- Facing an extreme teacher shortage over the next decade, educators plan a $22-million training center for teachers. Florida Atlantic University, Broward Community College, Nova Southeastern and the county school district plan to put the center on the campus FAU and BCC share in Davie. Florida's public schools must hire 162,000 teachers in the next 10 years, more than 13,000 of them in Broward. Most of the vacancies -- 72% -- are because of teachers leaving the profession early.
Delray Beach -- Office Depot plans to close 70 stores, resulting in a fourth-quarter restructuring charge of $280 million to $300 million. The company says none of its Florida stores will be closed. The closings did not come as a surprise; CEO Bruce Nelson had been promising a turnaround plan, which was expected to include boarding up some underperforming stores.
Fort Lauderdale -- SportsLine.com (Nasdaq-SPLN) struck a deal with the NBA that gives the sports website access to video highlights and use of league and team logos. SportsLine.com will produce a fantasy game for NBA.com. Financial terms weren't disclosed. In other news, SportsLine announced that a deal with the online sports equipment retailer MVP.com has fallen apart following MVP's failure to make a fourth-quarter payment. SportsLine CEO Michael Levy says the company expects to put together another agreement soon. MVP.com was started by sports stars John Elway, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.
The law firm of Krupnick Campbell Malone Roselli Buser Slama Hancock McNelis Liberman & McKee, which in 1994 won a $214-million verdict against E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. over the fungicide Benlate, has won another verdict against the company for $10 million. The suit, filed on behalf of a U.S.-owned Ecuadorean shrimp farm, claimed the fungicide leached into the shrimp farm waters from banana farms.
Hollywood -- Costa Cruises, an Italian subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corp. (NYSE-CCL) will relocate its headquarters to Hollywood's Venture Corporate Center in May. The move, which will include about 100 employees, was facilitated by a city-sponsored incentive package.
Palm Beach Gardens -- The Wackenhut Corp. (NYSE-WAK) has announced plans to sell off part of its food services division to Philadelphia-based Aramark. The division, which is under contract to provide food services to more than 80 correctional facilities throughout the country, reported revenues of $70 million in 1999.
Plantation -- Biotech company Viragen (Amex-VRA) and the Scottish scientists who introduced the world's first cloned sheep are teaming up in an effort to develop chickens that lay eggs containing substances used to produce anti-cancer drugs. The company does not have any drugs on the market yet but is working under a number of agreements to develop drugs targeting hepatitis, multiple sclerosis and other viral illnesses.
Pompano Beach -- Former TCPI Inc. (OTCBB-TCPI) Chairman Jack Aronowitz and the medical-products company's board of directors have exchanged lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. Among other claims, Aronowitz alleges the company reneged on his employment agreement. The company alleges that Aronowitz still owes hundreds of thousands of dollars on a corporate loan.
South Florida -- The Real Yellow Pages plans a separate section this year for Spanish advertising in south Florida -- Las Verdaderas Paginas Amarillas. Already, Spanish ads are intermingled with English ads in the Miami-Dade edition of the Yellow Pages. Market researchers found Broward County, which is 12% Hispanic, and Palm Beach County, at 11%, could use a Spanish version as well. In April, the version will hit Hollywood, Pompano Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. Delray Beach and West Palm residents will receive it in the fall.
Stuart -- The Stuart Jet Center, a 50-acre site providing aircraft refueling, storage and maintenance, has been sold to Boca Raton real estate entrepreneur Richard Schmidt, and Jerry Black, a former Vail, Colo., jet center operator.
Tequesta -- The Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida is in negotiations to buy the Independent Bank of Tequesta for $6.4 million. Tribal operating officer Tim Cox says the bank would be operated for the local community, not just tribe members.
Weston -- Internet consulting firm Semtor, based in Weston, was acquired by iRealtyGroup, a Hong Kong-based company that develops corporate strategies and financial problem-solving.