Opponents of New Northville Downs Location Continue Push Back Against Stakeholders

Jessica Aletor
Jessica Aletor


  • In January 2023, a proposal was submitted to move the Northville Downs racetrack to Plymouth Township, with its lease due this year.
  • The relocation became official this July but has since been met with stiff opposition from Plymouth residents.
  • At a recent board meeting, 30 residents opposed the relocation, citing problem gambling and animal mistreatment and land contamination.

The Northville Downs is not only Michigan’s oldest horse racing track but is also the state’s only surviving facility. Established back in the 1940s, the racetrack has for eight decades been located in the Northville area of Michigan’s Oakland County. However, with the lease due to expire sometime this year, proposals arose in January suggesting a relocation to Plymouth Township.

Unfortunately, the move has not been without criticism, especially from the prospective host community. At the approval stage, only one member of the Township’s Board of Trustees voted against the proposal, but dozens of residents have taken several measures to oppose the relocation.

Relocation Plans Setback Despite Planning Commission’s Approval

Parimutuel horse racing was first introduced in Michigan in 1933 and 90 years after the inaugural race held at the State Fairgrounds, it became imminent that the state’s only surviving horse racetrack needed improvement. The 2023 Northville Downs started on April 7, and stakeholders have braced themselves that this year’s edition may be the last one at the current location.

At the initial stages, the plans for relocation were accepted, but it has since faced immense opposition, delaying the execution of the project. In June, the Plymouth’s Township Planning Commission unequivocally approved the planned unit development for the new Northville Downs location. However, stiff resistance has now come from the Township’s Board of Trustees and multiple residents.

The most recent Board of Trustees’ meeting took place on Tuesday, July 11, with about 30 residents from a total of 150 rejecting the plan for the relocation. According to updated plans, the new facility was to include an infield soccer stadium and multiple other community benefits plans. But these have not been enough to sway antagonistic residents who have raised several arguments against the project.

Heise now refers to these multiple claims as “growing organized citizen opposition,” and quite recently, he faced more intense backlash, with some citizens claiming that the new facility is highly contaminated.

CPA Firm Dismisses Prior Memo About New Racetrack’s Contamination

According to Heise, emerging reports that the proposed location at Plymouth Township’s Five Mile Road was contaminated have emerged untrue. In April, a document titled the “Brownfield Plan” claimed that the soil in the new track was contaminated with arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, selenium, and zinc. In addition, the document alleged that “groundwater is contaminated with cadmium at concentrations greater than its residential use criterion.”

This document was sent by Harless & Associates, a CPA firm operating as the consultant for the Michigan International Technology Center (MITC). In a surprising turn of events, the firm sent a follow-up memo in the first week of July dispelling its former claims. The new memo reads thus:

Results from the Phase I ESA (Environmental Site Assessment) of MITC Parcel 11 revealed no evidence, or reason to suspect, that past uses of the property resulted in environmental contamination or threat of contamination. … Under both federal and state statutes described above, the purchaser of Parcel 11 would have no reason to believe the property was contaminated and would be free to (sic) redevelopment it.

Explaining the apparent contradiction, James Harless, the chief consultant, noted that the developer planned to use Parcels 11 and 12 before opting to use just one (Parcel 12). While contamination was found on Parcel 11, the southern parcel had a clean bill of health. Besides, both parcels are separated by a railroad and Northville Downs could not be held accountable for a contamination they didn’t cause.

Residents Argue That Relocation Reflects Badly on Township Life

Despite this clarification, many residents remain averse to the development. One of the residents expressed disappointment while speaking to the press and alleged that the racetrack was, in fact, a plan to establish gambling in the Township. According to Heise, Michigan online gambling rules do not even permit such.

Others claim that horses are bound to be mistreated or that the racetrack would cause traffic and will significantly impact the quality of life in the community negatively. Heise believes it is expected to have opposition with residents, but that a majority of them are acting on false information, while others have had their questions answered in the past.

“There were probably about six or seven people in opposition. The arguments were based more on concerns about traffic, which we’ve addressed many different times, said Heise. “One of the things we’ve had to do here is educate people on what casino laws are in Michigan, because the opposition has said this is going to be a casino, which is absolutely not the case. It’s in our state constitution and it basically says we’re limited to three [commercial] casinos, all in the city of Detroit.”

It is impossible to fully determine how quickly the relocation plans would secure approval from the Board. For now, all focus would be on creating appealing community benefits and convincing residents to throw their weights behind the project.

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, casino.zone and Max Force Racing. She spends her time between Michigan and California, staying up-to-date on the latest industry developments