Gulfstream Park has seen its share of financial adversity, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the racetrack and retail center’s latest bid for reinvention looks so epic.
Next year, the owners plan to install a giant Pegasus statue 11 stories tall, with the bronze-and-steel winged horse trampling an equally massive dragon at its feet. Stretching 220 feet long and shipped in 60 packing containers from China, the $30 million statue represents Gulfstream’s boldest venture yet: the centerpiece of a planned destination called Pegasus Park, which eventually could bring in Ferris wheels and water slides to beef up the current draws of dining, shopping, slot machines and horse racing.
“This will be the biggest attraction south of Orlando,” said Gulfstream general manager Tim Ritvo.
Renderings of the 110-foot-tall statue — where automobiles look like Matchbox cars below the horse’s feet — capture Gulfstream’s ambition in creating a landmark that Ritvo says will be striking even for airline passengers above.
The statue also represents a sharp turnaround from Gulfstream’s recent plans to be the region’s next great shopping center. Now, Gulfstream wants to emphasize fun more than fashion and beef up its entertainment options. The summer of 2013 was the first to have weekend races, ending Gulfstream’s seasonal schedule in hopes of creating more traffic for the property. The park plans to expand its spectator grandstand with the goal of winning back the prestigious Breeder’s Cup.
“There is a lot more to come,” Ritvo said.
The past several years may be some of the toughest ever for the nearly 75-year-old racetrack, which got its start during World War II and still hasn’t fully found its footing after horse racing lost its allure with many gamblers.
Gulfstream’s slot machines pull in the least amount of revenue among its competitors, according to state records, and the racetrack filed for bankruptcy protection during the recession. A long-delayed launch of a new mall and office complex in 2010, the Village at Gulfstream Park, brought disappointing sales and an abrupt departure of a national operator that warned before it left that the center might not be sustainable.
And while retail sales have been growing by double digits, revenue remains soft, according to financial reports, and the shopping center still has about 20 percent of its space to rent. Original plans called for Gulfstream by now to have added a 250-room hotel and 500 condominium units on its way to becoming a mixed-used destination with the added attraction of gambling.
Instead, the delays and management turmoil have left Gulfstream somewhat on the sidelines of South Florida’s rebound in retail properties.
“I think the perception now is it’s going through changes. The owner is trying to bring that area up to the level where it should be. I think a lot of tenants are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” said Mickey Finkle, a retail broker at Koniver Stern, a Miami Beach firm that represented many of the home retailers that were Gulfstream’s first retail tenants in 2010. Finkle said that clients generally tell him they feel comfortable in malls targeting the high-end of the market, the low-end and the middle, but “what we don’t like to do is go into a market that’s in a state of flux.”