Churchill Downs not moving forward with Ellis Park extension in Owensboro

Churchill Downs not moving forward with Ellis Park extension in Owensboro
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 10:35 PM EDT
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OWENSBORO, Ky. (WFIE) - Churchill Downs officials say they will not be moving an Ellis Park extension into the Owensboro Towne Square Mall.

Officials say they originally announced the plans last year after deciding to purchase Ellis Park as a whole.

“It wasn’t about the gambling, it was certainly about having the opportunity to smoke,” Owensboro Mayor, Tom Watson said.

Mayor Watson says they kept getting hung up on the smoking ban the city has in place.

In March, the city commission attempted to make an exception so the casino could be built and operated within the law.

[PREVIOUS: Owensboro City Commission meeting to discuss indoor smoking ban postponed indefinitely]

Mayor Watson says the renderings of the entertainment facility had smokers sectioned off from non-smokers, and on a completely different HVAC system.

“[But] It still didn’t qualify under our smoking ban,” Mayor Watson said. “And I asked them point blank, are you coming if you can’t smoke? And they wouldn’t answer.”

Mayor Watson says the development would’ve been huge for the south side of the city, but now he hopes they will remain nearby when they choose the replacement location.

“I’d like to keep them in the area, because it’s still going to create jobs,” Mayor Watson said. “It’s always hard managing public health and economic development. People don’t coordinate those two things together quite often. That’s what this was, public health versus economic development.”

Churchill Downs Incorporated released the following statement:

Churchill Downs Incorporated has shifted plans for the previously-announced Owensboro facility and we are still evaluating new locations that will better enable us to create a premier entertainment destination for all residents of the region. We look forward to creating hundreds of jobs, driving significant economic activity and partnering with the community in which we ultimately choose to develop our Ellis Park extension facility.

Mayor Watson says the future of Towne Square Mall remains unknown.

“I’m just at a loss to really understand where it goes from here,” Mayor Watson added.

Churchill Downs originally purchased Ellis Park for $79 million. Officials estimated the cost of redeveloping Ellis Park and the entertainment facility would cost around $75 million.