Boeing Buys Longacres -- Site May Be Company Headquarters; Some Racing Possible Elsewhere

The Boeing Co. has purchased the Longacres racetrack in Renton and eventually might use the site for a future corporate headquarters.

Today's announcement by Ken Alhadeff, president of a family real-estate company, Broadacres, that owns the track site, means there will be no more horse racing at the track, the only major racetrack in Western Washington.

But Alhadeff indicated that there may be some limited racing next summer if someone begins soon to build a new course.

This year's horse-racing season ended Monday.

Alhadeff, who said it is no longer economical to operate the 57-year-old track near Interstate 405 and east of Interstate 5, said he believes a new racetrack will be built in Western Washington within two years. He provided no details.

But Mark Dedomenico, chief executive of Pegasus Financial and a thoroughbred owner, said yesterday, ``If the track is sold to Boeing, we will build a track somewhere.''

He said he has assembled a group of 15 to 20 individuals who have pledged a total of $100 million to construct a new racetrack. He declined to identify the

investors, but said his stepmother, Heather Dedomenico, is one backer.

Tracks in Spokane and Yakima will continue to be other major horse-racing sites in the state.

The 215-acre Longacres pastoral site is ripe for commercial development and is in the heart of ``Boeing country'' where the company already has numerous new offices and manufacturing facilities. It makes 737s and 757s at the south end of Lake Washington in north Renton, and its Kent Space Center is south along the West Valley Highway.

The company's longtime headquarters now is closer to Seattle, on East Marginal Way South along the banks of the Duwamish River and across from Boeing Field.

Boeing representatives did not participate in this morning's press conference at Longacres, and would not confirm that Longacres would become its new headquarters. A company source said that a use for the property has not been determined but added that a manufacturing plant would not be built there.

In a statement, Boeing said it ``intends to develop the property into a campus-style environment that will be aesthetically and environmentally sound.'' The company cited the parcel's proximity to other Boeing operations, as well as to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and major highways, as its appeal.

Boeing, the Northwest's largest company, has been acquiring major land parcels in the Kent Valley and other areas for the past year and is expanding on present sites, as booming commercial-jet production squeezes the company for space. Boeing has a backlog of more than 1,700 orders for commercial jets.

Details of the Longacres purchase, which was closed yesterday, were not revealed, but there were indications that a stock exchange was part of the transaction. The property is valued by King County at $23.5 million but others in the industry said it could bring at least $30 million to $35 million or more.

About 80 year-round Longacresemployees will be out of a job in six months, on March 31. The horse-racing season usually starts each year in early April. Some 600 to 700 people are employed during the six-month season.

If a new track is built, one possible site is the Auburn Downs property in Auburn where a harness-racing complex was proposed nearly a decade ago by Auburn Downs Associates, an investor group, but never built. The group filed for bankruptcy in 1988. That parcel is just 95 acres, but another 40 acres of adjacent property owned by Glacier Park, Burlington Northern's real-estate arm, might be available, Dedomenico said.

Longacres racetrack has been owned by the family of founder Joe Gottstein for 57 years. Gottstein's widow died 11 months ago and there's been talk of a sale ever since.

Alhadeff said today there is too much competition from other sports and lotteries for the track to continue, especially in light of what he called large capital-improvement expenses that would be necessary in the next five years. He said it was decided a gradual phase-out of the track would not be economically feasible.

Alhadeff heads Broadacres while his brother, Mike, is president of Longacres. Their father, Morrie, chief executive officer and board chairman, stepped aside from daily operations at the end of the 1988 racing season.

The family holds about a 70 percent controlling interest in the property; the remainder is held by other stockholders. It's unclear what role the Alhadeffs would have in future horse racing. But Ken Alhadeff said this morning that it is in their interest to stay in the thoroughbred industry.

One source said the Alhadeffs approached Boeing with an offer, even though they had other interested buyers for the property.

The site is zoned for business use even though it presently is mostly undeveloped. Boeing could build an office tower as high as 15 stories, with variances, although it could go nine stories without special permits.

Boeing's development plans for the key site are expected to be stretched over several years. One industry source predicted it would develop a high-image corporate campus ``under-utilizing'' the land, meaning much of it might be kept in open space.

That would fit with the prospect that the site contains as-yet unmapped wetlands that would have to be preserved. Any development could require some environmental repair and cleanup; real-estate officials say there is the possibility of toxic heavy metals in the sediments of the creek on the site's eastern boundary.

The prospect of a Boeing corporate campus replacing the picturesque racetrack was a sad one for those who have spent their lives working at Longacres. Gary Baze, a six-time leading jockey at the track, is the third generation of his family to race there.

``I've kind of got mixed feelings,'' said Baze, 34, who began riding at Longacres at age 16. ``We've got a lot of pretty good memories and a lot of history at this track. I'd hate to see it go.

``But I can kind of see management's point of view, too. They're in a spot where they're getting hit from so many sides, moneywise, and those kind of offers are hard to refuse.''

The most influential surviving pioneer of the Washington racing industry is 81-year-old Belle Roberts. Her late husband, Hump Roberts, helped establish thoroughbred breeding in the state and Belle Roberts was on hand the day Longacres opened its doors in 1933, as a 24-year-old waitress in the clubhouse.

When she heard of its scheduled demise, she was profoundly saddened.

``Honey, it just broke my heart,'' Roberts said. ``I know Boeing's been good to our country and our state and I try to be fair, but I can't see why Boeing has to cover up the whole valley, so much good earth.''

``You look at the valley and all you see is these flat-tops (of buildings). It doesn't seem possible to me that they need it all.''

Her thoughts turned to her husband, who died in January at the age of 86. Roberts, remembered as one of the most big-hearted horsemen to grace Longacres, once trained horses for founder Gottstein.

``I'm glad he wasn't here to see it,'' Belle Roberts said of her husband. ``But he would always find a way around it, to see some good in everything and maybe there will be some good to come of this, after all.''