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Stock cars could come to Aqueduct

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Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said there was some truth to speculation that Aqueduct Race Track could be converted into a stock race car track if the state-owned facility ceases all gambling operations.

Addabbo, who said there have been rumors Aqueduct could close in the future, conceded several contingency plans are under consideration that would be put into place if the race track stopped holding horse races and offering off-track betting facilities.

"This is purely conjecture and rumor at this point," Addabbo said in a telephone interview last week. "But there is an interest and concern about what happens at Aqueduct in the future."

The New York Post last week identified Aqueduct as one of four sites in the New York City area at which the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is hoping to build a stock car race track. The other three possible sites are Calverton, L.I., Westchester and New Jersey.

Officials at Aqueduct did not offer any comment about plans to possibly transform it into a stock car race track.

Officials from NASCAR did not return repeated phone calls.

Addabbo, who before being elected to the City Council in 2001 served on Community Board 10, said the board that covers the communities of Howard Beach, Ozone Park and South Ozone Park had been working to change the zoning at Aqueduct. He said the board unsuccessfully tried to downgrade the site's present commercial zoning to a combination of smaller commercial and residential zones.

"Right now, the worst thought you could possibly come up with you could put there," Addabbo said, referring to heavy manufacturing or power plant facilities. "You could put anything there."

Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, said she had not heard of any discussions to transform Aqueduct.

State officials announced earlier this year that 4,500 video lottery terminals, otherwise known as slot machines, were to be installed at Aqueduct.

Bill Nader, senior vice president of the New York Racing Association that owns and operates Aqueduct, said the horse race track would also likely double the number of hours it is open and start offering late-night, year-round horse race simulcasts.

He said that would mean Aqueduct would be open just about every day of the year except for Easter and Christmas - up from about 140 days of live racing presently held at the track.

NYRA is a private, non-profit state corporation that owns Aqueduct along with Belmont Park in Elmont, L.I., the home to the Belmont Stakes leg of the Triple Crown, and Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga, N.Y. Aqueduct is at 110-00 Rockaway Blvd.

Addabbo said a professional soccer team had earlier expressed interest in taking over Aqueduct in the event it closed and building a soccer stadium. That plan, however, has since been abandoned, Addabbo said.

The councilman conceded that Aqueduct is an attractive site to be transformed into a stock car race track. He said the oval shape of the track would be easy to change into one used by cars.

Addabbo also said he would only support putting a stock car race track at Aqueduct if it was in operation fewer than two times a year.

The councilman stressed that he would not enter into negotiations with NASCAR or any other officials involved in a transformation at Aqueduct without first getting input from the surrounding communities. He reiterated that there are no concrete plans in store for the horse race track.

"If there has been any conversation, it has only been as an idea," he said.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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