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Rockingham Park to close at end of the summer

Union Leader Correspondent

May 27. 2016 4:08PM
These days at Rockingham Park, only televisions broadcast the kinds of horse races that used to take place just beyond the windows. (Eli Okun/Union Leader Correspondent)

SALEM – The landmark Rockingham Park will close for good Aug. 31, general manager Ed Callahan said Friday.

“It’s sad to ultimately see it go, but I think we’ve all seen the handwriting on the wall, for the last few years at any rate,” he said.

The roughly 200 employees currently working at the park will be laid off, “so far as I know,” Callahan said.

Simulcasting, gaming, shows and more will continue as scheduled throughout the summer, Callahan said. After that, an auction of furniture, equipment and memorabilia will likely take place in the third week of September.

The park was put up for sale in March.

A representative from Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, the real estate firm handling the sale, seemed surprised that Callahan had made public “The Rock’s” closing.

“That’s an interesting announcement, just given the fact that (the sale) certainly hasn’t closed yet,” he said Friday morning.

The Rock, which ended live horse racing in 2010, ultimately fell victim to Massachusetts competition and an inability to keep up with demand. Proponents have pinned the blame on state legislators, who have repeatedly thwarted efforts to establish a casino at the park.

The park has a lot of history within its bounds. Thursday marked the 32nd anniversary of Rockingham Venture Inc. reopening the track with a heavily attended race, after a devastating fire had shut down the park for four years. And next month will mark 110 years since the park’s first-ever race in June 1906.

Joe Faro, a local businessman and the entrepreneur behind Tuscan Kitchen, has already bought 50 acres of Rockingham Park and began planning last year to develop most of it into a mixed-use development intended as a downtown centerpiece for Salem.

The remaining 120 acres of The Rock are in the process of being sold.

Beyond offering fun and sport, The Rock has also played an important role in boosting community organizations and nonprofits throughout the decades.

Colin Hanlon, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem, said the organization received $50,000 to $55,000 from the park annually through its charitable gaming — plus donations from other groups in town, like the Rotary Club and the Knights of Columbus, that were also beneficiaries of charitable gaming.

“I’m not sure that everybody understands how comprehensive the impact can possibly be for the club and the kids,” he said.

The club’s leadership has been working on a resource development plan to help address the expected funding shortfall in the short term, though Hanlon said he’s hopeful that The Rock’s long-term replacement will help stimulate Salem’s economy and be a boon to the club.

“Progress happens,” he said.

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