Northville Downs Fails to Meet Conditions for Plymouth Township Relocation



  • The Plymouth Township Board on Tuesday, January 24 voted 6-0 to halt all relocation negotiations with Northville Downs.
  • With this decision now effective, the community’s planning commission has rejected ongoing plans for the establishment of the racetrack in their territory.
  • As live pari-mutuel racing ends at Northville’s former facility, it is possible that Michigan may be without a horse racetrack for a while.

Early in January, the Michigan Gaming Control Board broke the news that Northville Downs would hold its final race at its current location for the last time this February. After a series of cancelled races due to the adverse weather and wet tracks, the state’s only horse racing location has now ceased operation on Saturday, Feb. 3.

Unfortunately for live pari-mutuel horse racing in Michigan, plans to relocate from Northville to Plymouth Township have now bit the dust. The community board and planning committee have thrown out Northville Downs’ relocation plans after it failed to meet four of six important conditions

Board and Planning Committee Jointly Dismiss Relocation Plans 

Plans to relocate the Northville Downs racetrack have been set in motion as far back as 2018 after the track was sold to developers in a landmark redevelopment agreement. Last year, the Plymouth Township Planning Commission unanimously approved the planned unit development for the racetrack relocation, with the eventual execution simply awaiting final approval from the Board of Trustees. 

However, the events that followed have continuously made the prospects of a final approval look bleak. The bid has since faced stiff opposition by Plymouth locals who form a large chunk of the Board of Trustees. Negotiations eventually broke down at a recent meeting of the board held on Jan. 24, 2024. The board voted unanimously in a 6-0 decision to stop all racetrack relocation negotiations with Northville Downs.  

This decision means Plymouth Township is willing to end all communication with the racetrack. In a comment to journalists, Plymouth Township supervisor, Kurt Heise revealed that Northville Downs refused to negotiate in good faith. 

“Part of the rationale is that Northville Downs has not negotiated in good faith. When you say someone is acting in bad faith, in the context of the Michigan zoning code, there are legal and procedural implications to that,” Heise said.  

Northville Downs still has the option to request an extension of time for negotiations to continue with the community’s planning commission. Heise, however, believes that there is no hope for renegotiations. 

“I think we’ve made a decision that discussions are over. We’ve withdrawn their application, and I anticipate that their time extension will be denied,” Heise told Michigan news outlets.  

Northville Downs Declines to Contribute to Community Benefits Agreement 

A few days after the Board reached its decision, the Plymouth Township Planning Commission also rescinded plans for the new Northville Downs racetrack. The Commission cited the failure of Northville Downs to meet four of six conditions initially assented to in the original agreement.

Northville Downs bought 128 acres near Five Mile and Ridge, both in Plymouth Township with the intent of building a new harness racing facility. The initial approval for the project given by the Planning Commission was dependent on the fulfilment of six important conditions:

  • The racetrack would address outstanding items from the planners’ report.
  • Address outstanding items from the engineers’ report.
  • Revise the Planned Unit Development (PUD) contract to include provision for a Community Benefits Agreement. This, in turn, was to be submitted to the Plymouth attorney and deemed acceptable by the Board and township attorney.
  • The final landscape plan must be reviewed administratively.
  • The relocation of the Northville Downs racetrack sign from Northville to Plymouth was approved.
  • The PUD contract was to be revised to include a clause preventing expansion on gaming and the township attorney must determine the exact wording.

According to the Plymouth Township Planning Commission, the racetrack management has failed to meet the first four conditions. In fact, Northville Downs rejected any attempt to make it contribute to a Community Benefits Agreement. Its contribution, as estimated by Tom Barrett, the president of the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association, is set at $50,000 per year for the next 10 years.

Plymouth Township Planning Commission has also declined a one-year development plan extension request by the racetrack.

Michigan Set to be Without Horse Racing for The First Time in 80 Years 

Starting Feb. 3, Michigan now becomes without any horse racing facility for the first time in over eight decades. Simulcast betting is also scheduled to cease completely by February 10 when patrons will be eligible to cash in winning tickets.

The implications of Michigan going without horse racing for an extended period is quite negative from every perspective. Not only does it attempt to erode a centuries-old culture, but it may also affect Michigan online gambling revenue. As the drama unfolds, the role of the Michigan Gaming Control Board and Northville Downs management will be essential in shaping the state’s horse racing future.

Jessica is a news contributor to Gamble Online Michigan. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics but has over three years of experience working in the hospitality and gambling industry. Despite her core finance and investment banking background, she has been a casino feature writer for N1 Interactive Limited and multiple gambling affiliate sites. Her work has been featured on the bet365 blog, and Max Force Racing. She spends her time between Michigan and California, staying up-to-date on the latest industry developments