By Jason Thomas – Managing Editor, Louisville Business First

Churchill Downs Racetrack on Wednesday announced details of a $300 million renovation project that promises to “transform the first turn of the 190-acre facility and provide guests … never-before imagined Kentucky Derby experiences,” according to a news release.

The release also touts new VIP guest experiences, including the construction of permanent stadium seating, a hotel and historical racing machine (HRM) facility in the first turn at the racetrack, as well as a renovation project at Millionaires Row.

The project would begin in December with a projected completion at the end of 2021.

We first reported on Churchill Downs’ plans in August.

The 156-room, seven-story hotel will feature trackside suites, all of which will offer private balconies and covered panoramic views of the entire track, as well as non-track facing rooms that will offer access to a second floor party deck to watch racing. A Penthouse banquet room, 27,000-square-foot ballroom and meeting rooms will add event space throughout the year.

“Derby Week guests can wake up to a sunrise view as horses breeze around the track and then have their Kentucky Derby in their suite,” Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack, said in the release.

“We took exceptional consideration with the design approach to this project to ensure that the addition will seamlessly enhance and complement the historic nature and iconic aesthetic of Churchill Downs. Our goal is to create a one-of-a-kind venue not just for Derby week, but for the public benefit of our community and visitors of Louisville to enjoy throughout the year.”

The hotel will include a 900-machine state-of-the-art HRM gaming floor, sports bar, VIP lounge and multiple year-round dining venues. In addition to welcoming patrons throughout the year, it will be packaged with exclusive Derby Week hospitality access for 3,400 guests in the existing Section 111.

New permanent covered stadium seating for 4,700 spectators will replace the 3,300 temporary grandstands historically located in that area. It will provide a thrilling spectator experience to the thunderous racing and the famous Kentucky Derby walkover as well as an all-inclusive hospitality experience, the release said.

In total, the project will provide approximately 5,500 new reserved seating options for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks. Additionally, 6,700 existing customers will have access to upgraded amenities.

The project will provide for approximately 600 construction jobs and establish approximately 300 new permanent jobs upon completion. Churchill Downs has received preliminary approval for Tourism Development Act incentives that will enable this project to move forward and is awaiting final approval from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority in November.

Millionaires Row Renovation

Churchill Downs will also create a culinary experience for attendees of next year’s Kentucky Derby with an $11 million renovation of sixth floor Millionaires Row. The update will offer upscale guest offerings and elevated service for up to 350 guests with a prime and picturesque view of the racetrack’s finish line.

The concept will include an exclusive menu, deluxe drink and champagne packages as well as concierge service dedicated to meet tailored needs including pre-orders and dietary restrictions, the release stated. Unique and interactive hospitality experiences punctuated with personal detail will be incorporated throughout the space including an in-room handicapper to consult for wagering along with premium and private bourbon tastings.

“Creating unique experiences for our guests has been the hallmark of the Kentucky Derby,” Flanery said in the release. “From our Stakes Room and Turf Club renovations in 2016 to our Starting Gate Suites addition in 2018 and most recently our Starting Gate Suites Rooftop, we have consistently personalized each offering with the diverse expectations of our guests whether they are attending for the first time or returning year after year. Not since the opening of The Mansion have we conceived of something this luxurious and truly one-of-a-kind.”

The renovated space will feature private dining rooms, lounge seating, window dining and a speakeasy bourbon room. More information on individual tickets to the new space for Kentucky Derby 2020 will be made available during an online ticket sale later this year.

Renovation will begin at the close of Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet in December and will be completed prior to the running of the 146th Kentucky Derby.