Travis Boersma’s effort to revive professional horse racing in Oregon is officially over.
Boersma notified Josephine County officials that his company, TMB Racing, was terminating its 99-year lease to use the county fairgrounds track. Boersma has said he invested $50 million to upgrade the track into a professional-grade facility he called Grants Pass Downs.
But Boersma, a self-made billionaire thanks to the Dutch Bros coffee chain he co-founded, walked away after the state refused to allow his plan to operate an adjacent casino. Boersma, who grew up in Grants Pass, argued the so-called “Flying Lark” was necessary for Grants Pass Downs to be a viable long-term concern.
In a Feb. 16, letter, Boersma’s lawyers told the county that “TMB Racing has irrevocably and permanently abandoned the project located at the Josephine County Fairgrounds, including the ‘Flying Lark’ building.”
The news was first reported by the Daily Courier in Grants Pass.
Boersma’s company pulled out of the lease, the attorneys wrote, because the company hadn’t obtained approval to open the gaming hall from the Oregon Racing Commission. The lease contained a termination clause that allowed TMB to end the deal, said Wally Hicks, legal counsel at Josephine County.
There still may be some action at the county race track. The Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association has expressed interest in running a summer meet there.
As for the Flying Lark, a 35,000-square foot building that Boersma envisioned as a “gaming, entertainment and dining venue” adjacent to the race track, the county is exploring its options, Hicks said.
The racing commission, which regulates the sport of horse racing, encouraged Boersma to pursue the Grants Pass Downs project. It gave initial approval for the horse-racing part of the operation in March 2019.
But the Flying Lark plans drew opposition from then-Gov. Kate Brown, who refused to make an exception from the state’s stance that casinos are allowed only on Native American land. Boersma had argued the Flying Lark wasn’t a casino at all because its betting machines were based on historic horse races. The former Portland Meadows racetrack had operated similar machines, though on a smaller scale.
The lease termination will cost Josephine County $313,999 annually.
“He had a real vision,” Hicks said of Boersma. “It’s a blow to the industry and to the county.”
The Flying Lark laid off more than 200 newly hired workers when it was rejected by state officials.
— Jeff Manning, email@example.com