Churchill Downs seeks to add seating for Kentucky Derby

In a press release, Churchill Downs, owner of the Kentucky Derby’s home is planning another round of track renovations that would add a new seating area at Churchill Downs — the latest leg in the company’s efforts to maximize revenues from the Run for the Roses.

Churchill Downs Inc., owner of its namesake track, filed plans with Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services for a project called the Churchill Downs Rooftop Garden.

The track plans to build a two-story structure with enclosed and open areas near the starting gate at the top of the track’s homestretch. It would expand seating, though the recent filing didn’t specify how many seats would be added.

The improvements would be at a part of the iconic track that didn’t get as much attention in prior rounds of renovations that exceeded $150 million in the past decade.

The new facility would include betting windows, concessions and gathering places. The project calls for removing two existing buildings.

Company spokesman John Asher said Thursday that the track faces space limitations but declined to provide specifics about the possible renovation.

The Courier-Journal of Louisville first reported the track’s plans.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the possible expansion “is another example of the innovative work occurring at Churchill Downs and its signature track as the company seeks to gain new race fans.”

Attendance at this year’s Kentucky Derby — the first leg of the Triple Crown — was 151,616, down slightly due to rainy conditions. Last year’s attendance was 165,307. The Kentucky Oaks — a race for 3-year-old fillies run the day before the Derby — drew 113,820 spectators this year, the second-largest crowd ever for the race.

Those two days are a revenue bonanza for the track’s Louisville-based parent company.

The rooftop garden would follow a series of renovations that have significantly changed the looks of the historic track.

This year’s big renovation was a new VIP section known as The Mansion. Churchill spent about $3 million on the new section, built inside the former media center and offering some of the best views of the track. It seats about 300 people, and tickets for the sold-out section ranged from $7,000 to $12,500 as a Derby and Oaks package this past spring.

The track spent about $122 million to renovate the clubhouse and grandstand. Churchill also installed permanent lighting for the main dirt track and turf course in recent years. Night racing has become a fan favorite during the handful of racing cards run under the lights at Churchill.