By STEPHANIE UJHELYI
CHESTER, W.Va. -- A new convention center is on track to play host in September to its first events at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort, according to Tamara Pettit, director of public relations.
Mountaineer is in Phase II of its $60 million expansion project, which would add a five-story addition to its hotel, a gourmet restaurant with Las Vegas-style buffet, an Arnold Palmer golf course and training center, a river walk shopping mall, a housing development and equestrian trails.
Work is expected to begin on the golf course and training center this summer, and the upcoming hotel addition will bring more than 200 extra rooms to the facility in February.
Acquisition of 1,600 acres was crucial to Mountaineer's expansion plans, Pettit said. Now Mountaineer has 2,200 acres to develop.
Vital to economy: The economic impact of the expansion was felt immediately in the Tri-State area with the creation of 150 jobs.
In Hancock County, Mountaineer's growth and expansion has been welcomed because of the faltering steel industry, once the area's largest source of employment, said Pettit. Mountaineer employs 1,060 with 700 more expected at the end of Phase II.
An additional 3,533 backside workers (jockeys, trainers, etc.) also work at the resort.
Work in progress: Some of the work already has been completed on the $60 million development project. In the past year, the resort has debuted work on a 74,000-square-foot theater and event center, an 11,000-square-foot spa and fitness center and an outdoor cafe.
Upgrades also were completed at the racetrack, including new lighting and a renovated racing surface costing $2.2 million, allowing Mountaineer to broadcast its signal to 190 locations including Nevada.
With passage of West Virginia legislation, Mountaineer added a 32,000 square-foot addition to the Speakeasy Casino to house additional video slot machines.
Pettit said Mountaineer will take advantage of property near the river to construct a riverside broadwalk, peppered with retail shops and centered around a gourmet restaurant located in a rustic circa 1880 apple barn.
More: The next phase incorporates an existing golf course into the landscape surrounding diverse housing developments along Route 208, ranging from upscale to more affordable senior citizen units.
Ted Arneault, Mountaineer president and chief executive officer, assumed control of Mountaineer and 1995 and has managed to turn a racetrack operating with a $5 million loss into one of America's fastest growing businesses as named by Fortune Magazine the past two years.
& quot;We've been extremely creative in creating an atmosphere of fun and our Speakeasy theme has met with unparalleled success, & quot; Arneault said.
Since video lottery was enacted in 1994, Hancock County coffers have gained almost $9 million from Mountaineer.
Reservations are already being made for events in the new convention center, Pettit added.
Pettit estimated Mountaineer averages 3,200 visitors a day. For a derby, 12,000 visit Mountaineer.
For more information, visit Mountaineer's Web site at http://www.mtrgaming.com.