Centaur and Valley View Downs may be nearing the finish line.
Unable to secure financing for an anticipated multimillion-dollar racetrack and casino in Lawrence County, Indiana-based Centaur — seeking bankruptcy protection — agreed last month to sell assets of Valley View Downs.
Last month Centaur officials asked the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission for a two-year extension of its racing license. It was awarded Sept. 5, 2007, and due to expire tomorrow. One extension already has been granted.
At a special meeting yesterday, the commission set two deadlines:
•Valley View Downs must notify commission members — in writing — by 4 p.m. Oct. 5 that at least one bid meeting requirements of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware has been received.
•If a “winning competitive bidder” is approved by the court, it has until 4 p.m. Dec. 31 to file for a preliminary application for a racing license with the commission.
A failure to meet either deadline, the order states, means “the license to conduct harness horse racing with pari-mutuel wagering shall be automatically and immediately terminated, revoked and surrendered to the commission without the necessity of any further proceedings or actions of the commission.”
The commission also stated that “at its sole discretion” and “upon good cause shown” it may grant additional time to complete any requirements of the order.
Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler, who attended yesterday’s meeting, said he remains positive.
According to Vogler, commission chairman Roy Wilt said after the meeting the license is site specific, meaning it will remain at the Lawrence County location.
“This is good news for Lawrence County,” Vogler said. “Now we need a successful bidder who can move this forward.
“We won’t know if there are bidders until October,” he continued. “We’ll be sitting tight until the bankruptcy court acts.”
Vogler said the outcome “is good overall. They could have revoked the license immediately. I appreciate the patience the commission has shown and their ongoing commitment to Lawrence County.”
If no bidder comes forward and the license is revoked, a new applicant may apply and propose a new site.
“But I understand there has been interest,” Vogler said. “I remain hopeful that someone will bid, that the bankruptcy court will accept and we’ll be able to move forward with this.”
Vogler noted “a curious situation” at the meeting. He said Wilt and commissioner Richard Welsh were joined by Michael Pechart, deputy secretary of agriculture. One vacancy exists on the three-member commission and the state agriculture secretary or representative is an ex-officio member.
Vogler said Welsh recused himself, explaining he is employed by Wells Fargo, one of Centaur’s creditors.
With Welsh unable to participate, Vogler said, Pechart made the motion, Wilt seconded it and the vote was 1-0 with only Wilt voting.
Attorney Jorge Augusto explained “this was researched and is legal ... since there is a vacancy and Welsh recused himself,” Vogler said. “Apparently the ex-officio member may make a motion, but can’t vote.”
State Rep. Chris Sainato said the commission’s meeting “went as I expected.
“This is the best-case scenario. Now we have to wait until Oct. 5 to see who will bid.”
Sainato said he has heard there is interest in the Valley View Downs site.
Although he doesn’t know who it is, Sainato said, “I was told people who were interested ... are taking another look.”
Noting the process will move swiftly, he said. “I am optimistic that we will see several bidders. This is a fantastic opportunity for a company who has money.”
Sainato said he is anxious for the matter to be resolved.
“I feel confident following today’s meeting,” he said, “But I will feel better after Oct. 5 when the bids come. I hope by Oct. 20, there will be a new owner and the process will be fast-tracked to a resolution.
“I want a happy ending here.”
(Nancy Lowry has another story in the Weekend edition.)