Scioto Downs’ grandstand razed, but will rise again

The historic grandstand at ‘Ohio’s Showplace of Racing’ in Columbus will be replaced by a new $20 million open-air structure.

by Jay Wolf

When Eldorado Scioto Downs opens its 2022 race meet in mid-May, its iconic and once critically-acclaimed grandstand will be a thing of the past and a new $20 million, 30,000 square foot grandstand will be under construction.

To make way for the new facility, the existing grandstand is being torn down after the 63-year-old structure was closed to patrons in early 2017 after a building inspector concluded that the grandstand was unsound.

“Everything is on schedule,” said Jason Roth, Scioto Downs’ director of racing. “This was supposed to be an eight-week tear down and we are week six right now.”

The new grandstand will remain open-air and will feature 768 stadium seats, 280 terrace and apron seats and two VIP suites that will accommodate an additional 130 guests. The current clubhouse and race book will remain unchanged and will be open during the construction.

“The plan is to start construction in May. They will work throughout the meet and we should have the new grandstand open for next May,” said Roth.

“They are actually using the concrete of the old grandstand as backfill for the new grandstand – crushing it into number two stone.”

Scioto Downs operates a live webcam (watch here) to allow horseman and patrons follow along with the demolition and eventual construction progress.

Live racing is scheduled to resume at the South High Street oval on May 12 with a Tuesday through Saturday race week with a 3:15 p.m. post time.

The mid-afternoon start time is required since the home stretch will be without its current lighting system.

Roth also noted that the judges and photo finish will be housed in temporary quarters in the current winner’s circle area.

Scioto Downs has a long-history at its south Columbus site.

It was Charlie Hill’s dream to build a state-of-the art track to replace the aged Hilliard Raceway, the site of the current Franklin County Fairgrounds.

The location was selected prior to the Columbus outer belt was constructed that would eventually be just a couple of miles north of the facility and make getting to the track an easy trek.

Hill broke ground on his $3 million, 140-acre dream facility in September 1958 with an ambitious goal of having it ready for a summer 1959 meet. A cold, wet winter caused construction delays, pushing the inaugural Scioto Downs to the fall.

The original 2,700 seat grandstand featured a ‘tilted thin-shell’ concrete roof supported by ‘hyperbolic paraboloids (shaped like inverted umbrellas).’ The curvature allowed the use of ‘inches thin’ concrete to provide strength.

The grandstand was comprised of five prefabricated concerte shells. Each shell was 120 feet long by 60 feet wide. Nearly 9,000 cubic yards of ready-mixed concrete and 40,000 concrete masonry units were used to construct the grandstand and clubhouse.

Columbus based Kellam & Foley were the construction architects and the Sheaf Construction Company was the general contractor.

The Scioto Downs grandstand was nominated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of America’s 12 ‘outstanding civil engineering achievements of 1959’ – eventually finishing second to the St. Lawrence Seaway project.

The Portland Cement Association, ‘a national organization to promote and improve the use of concrete,’ promoted the futuristic design by taking out media ads showing the structure and citing low upkeep costs and its ‘maintenance free’ benefits.

Scioto Downs was used for several other non-harness racing events, including concerts, flat-track motorcycle racing and was the host of the Ohio High School Cross Country championships for 26 years.

Long time patrons eagerly await and current Eldorado Scioto Downs’ management looks forward to the upcoming race meet and bringing Scioto Downs back as ‘Ohio’s Showplace of Racing.’