Apr 21, 2016

The $18 million renovations at Churchill Downs CHDN +% have modernized, opened up and expanded the spaces for premium seating areas in the third floor Turf Club and the fourth floor Stakes Room and Clubhouse. Among the ostentation on Kentucky Derby weekend, there will be an eye sore, however. Walk along the third level, past the owners and their families schmoozing in the Director’s Room, and you will find what appears to be the door to an HVAC utility room.

You will not be able to open it and walk through freely. Access beyond that door requires an invitation from racetrack president Kevin Flanery. Only then will you be escorted in, revealing wing-backed chairs, leather barstools, walnut wood interiors and marble finishes of a dimly-lit speakeasy featuring Woodford Reserve cocktails from James Beard Award-winning mixologist Charles Joly.

“Everyone knows that on Derby Day, the highest value is space,” says Mark Giles, a project manager from Project Control, which handled the new construction. “Anytime you can get breathing room it’s a big deal.” Both in spirit and hard numbers, the 400-sq.-ft. hideaway is the most valuable space paved by the renovations. Giles says it was ”probably the most expensive part of this whole project because of the materials and finishes.”

Churchill Downs is following the recent trend of sporting venues enhancing food and beverage programs from Levy Restaurants. The new premium seating spaces will have live food service pumping out improved dishes and cocktails throughout the day, including offerings from a stone and fire pizza oven and a prime rib rotisserie. There will be varying table sizes, lounge seating, race-day entertainment, in-seat technologies and added wagering windows.

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