Derby Lane adds more to do

To attract more customers, the dog track on Gandy Boulevard plans Sunday movies and even concerts.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 27, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - The iconic Derby Lane, where greyhounds have raced for more than 80 years, plans to add concerts and movies as an entertainment option this spring.

"We have a ton of space," said Lorilee Goodall, director of business development for the dog racing track on Gandy Boulevard.

"There's more housing coming out here. There's more people. We need more entertainment."

Derby Lane, she said, is well equipped to provide it. "We have everything. Parking, bathrooms and bars. Come on," Goodall said.

It also has a challenging business environment to contend with. The move comes as competition from other types of gambling - such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa - have challenged Florida's dog tracks.

Last year, the Tampa Greyhound Track shut down live dog racing for good, but it still offers simulcast races and poker.

Operators of dog and horse tracks say they're likely to feel even more of a squeeze now that the Seminole Indian tribe has reached an agreement with the state that gives it exclusive rights to Las Vegas-style games like blackjack, baccarat and roulette.

Derby Lane's events will be scheduled on Sundays, when there is no dog racing, but poker tables and simulcast betting stations will be open to concert and movie patrons.

Goodall said she hopes to stage the first concert at the end of March. Movies, shown on a 70-foot inflatable screen, will start the second Sunday in April and continue monthly after that in conjunction with a local radio station.

For concerts, the stage will be set up on the dog track with the venue capable of holding about 5,000 people.

Derby Lane has previously expanded its offerings over the years to stay in the game.

In the early 1990s, Derby Lane added simulcast screens that allow bettors to take their chances on dog, horse and harness tracks from across the country.

Then came poker tables.

So far this year, Derby Lane has opened a piano bar, started featuring local rock bands on weekend nights, and reopened a renovated Derby Club restaurant with an a la carte menu instead of the buffet that has been in place for the past 13 years.

"Parimutuels are in a decline all over the country - horse racing and dog racing. That's why we've introduced other things as well," said Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Filipelli. "We're trying all new avenues to try to give the people what they're looking for."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.