For $16.5 Million, You Could Own the Phoenix Trotting Park in Goodyear
The Arizona Republic
January 14, 2016
by Jessica Boehm
Call it an eyesore. Call it a piece of Arizona history. However you want to describe the Phoenix Trotting Park — it can be yours for $16.5 million.
The 194 acres that encompass the massive, abandoned horse-racing track hit the market in late December. The structure, located near the interchange of Loop 303 and Interstate 10, has been vacant for more than 50 years.
The current owner, Roles Inn of America, has held the property for more than two decades, according to the company's legal representative, Jean Emery. She said the company, based in Phoenix, also owns and operates a mobile home park south of the property. Ray Roles is chairman of the company, according to the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The park and surrounding land was also zoned as a mobile home park in 1996, but a new owner would likely find another use for the land, the company's real estate representative John Finnegan said. He said the property's freeway proximity makes it desirable for an employment area — perhaps a mixed-use of commercial, business and office space.
"This property has the opportunity to be a big game-changer for the city of Goodyear," Finnegan said, noting the timing of the listing coincides with the expansion of Loop 303 and increased industrial interest in the far West Valley.
When Roles Inn of America purchased the property in the '90s, it indicated interest in re-purposing the iconic grandstand structure.
"The building itself will be utilized at a later date," Roles said in an interview with The Arizona Republic in 1997. "We haven't decided exactly. We think offices may work. Possibly some types of light commercial businesses might work."
The Roles family did not speak to The Arizona Republic directly, but provided answers through representatives.
A history of the Phoenix Trotting Park
Those visions never came to fruition and most future ideas for the property — including those suggested by Finnegan — would call for the demolition of the structure.
The Phoenix Trotting Park had a very brief history as an actual race track. It was built in the 1960s by James Dunnigan, an East Coast horse-racing enthusiast who also owned a track in New York. The Phoenix park was open for two seasons before it was abandoned in 1966.
Today, the park appears to have seen little, if any, action since its racing days, besides a brief appearance in the 1998 film "No Code of Conduct" with Charlie Sheen and Martin Sheen. The film crew staged a large explosion inside the structure for the movie, which killed at least 50 pigeons and badly injured about 140 more that had been roosting inside the abandoned building. The film crew returned to the park to help rescue the injured birds and paid for their medical care and feeding, according to an article in The Republic at the time.
A fence surrounds the private property, but the years of weather damage and aging are noticeable even from the freeway, about 500 feet away.
Finnegan said the property is "mystical" to some who admire its size and architecture, but most people just wonder what it is as they pass it on their way back to the Valley from California.
Goodyear resident Sharon Girulat, a technology professional with a preservationist spirit, has been interested in reviving the property since before it hit the market. Her vision includes establishing the structure as a community and visitor gathering space.
Girulat said she's done her homework on the property and suspects it would cost about $1 million to remove asbestos, graffiti and bird droppings. She said this is a typical preservation cost and is not concerned about the age of the building.
Girulat said preserving the park is vital, as she sees it as one of the few pieces of history in the West Valley. Others disagree with its historic value because the track's existence was short-lived and unknown to many.
A historic designation?
Jim McPherson, president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, said the structure is mid-century, uniquely Arizona and something he would not like to see destroyed, but he stopped short of calling it historic.
Receiving historic designation through the National Register of Historic Places requires a structure to meet several requirements. Little research has been conducted about the Phoenix Trotting Park and no attempts have been made to secure historic designation, but McPherson said the structure would be technically eligible for historic consideration because of its age.
That being said, property owners must give consent to move forward. Finnegan said the current owners have no desire to pursue historic designation themselves, but said they would not be opposed to the next owner pursuing such a possibility.
That's Girulat's goal. She said she is searching the country to find a buyer that shares her vision and would be willing to buy the property and work to revive the structure and find a creative use for it. She said a Los Angeles-based company has expressed early interest and is currently reviewing the property.
This article originally appeared in the January 14, 2016 issue of The Arizona Republic.