By DAVID BRASCH
GREYHOUND racing has been a part of Tweed Heads since 1908.
There was a time during World War II that racing was conducted at the Recreation Grounds with greyhounds racing at night under lighting provided by cars positioned along the side of the track.
Greyhound racing, apart from the four years since December 5, 2016, has been a part of Tweed Heads ever since.
The Tweed Heads Coursing Club sold its 14ha track complex to the Gold Coast Airport for $16 million and has been searching for a new racing complex ever since.
Harry Pledger and Norm Ahrens had paid 3500 pounds for that site in 1964.
Early in August, the club signed a $2 million contract for a 32ha property at 230-242 Tweed Valley Way at Chinderah just 500m south of the BP Servo, in behind the RTA Inspection centre.
It ends a four-year search for a new complex, but Club secretary-manager Steve McGrath knows the battle to get greyhound racing up and running again at Tweed Heads is only just beginning.
And the four-year road just to this stage has also been one well-travelled.
\”In 2016 we ran straight into the NSW state government’s plan to shut down greyhound racing,\” said Steve. \”So, as a club we took a deliberate stance not to rush out and start looking for a new complex site.\”
The club initially headed to Queensland and had numerous meetings with the state\’s Racing Minister and Racing Queensland about the possibility of moving north.
\”We looked at land at Beaudesert and the Gold Coast but there was not much suitable,\” he said. \”We could always get buffer land, land between residential and industrial.
\”But Harry Pledger was always aware of buying land that down the track would increase in value. Buffer land was never going to do that.\”
A block of land at Welsh Street, Chinderah was ‘almost’ perfect but it could not accommodate a 400m area for a straight track.
Down the road at Waugh Street, Chinderah a similar site was also investigated, but it had 37 different environmental issues to counter.
\”Each due diligence on these sites took six months to complete and cost the club $20,000,\” said McGrath. \”But we pressed on.\”
Club president Rod Collins and McGrath were on their way back from looking at a 600 acre property at Murwillumbah when they passed the Tweed Valley Road site. They had been aware it had been ‘sold’ some years before.
\”We both regretted it had been for sale but because of the area, I got back to the office and decided to look again at the area,\” said Steve. \”And, low and behold, the site was up for sale again.\”
One thing led to another and the Tweed Club has since signed a contract to buy that parcel of 32ha for $2 million.
\”We have put a deposit on the land and have 90 days to pay the rest,\” said Steve.
McGrath says discussions with GRNSW have seen a commitment from the governing body that the club will be given a racing license and race dates when and if the complex is completed.
There is much to do before racing actually starts at the new site.
\”Obviously we have to get a master plan underway,\” said McGrath. \”It will be the first centre of excellence for greyhound racing and no one actually knows what a centre of excellence looks like.
\”All these things need to be sorted out along the way.\”
McGrath said the new complex would be largely based on the Murray Bridge complex in South Australia.
\”I went to Murray Bridge for the opening,\” he said. \”Our straight track will be almost the same. But we are planning a much bigger one-turn racetrack with 75 metre radius turns, race starts of 407m, 457m and 507m all in the back straight.
\”A longer distance will start from drop in boxes in the home straight.\”
The problems the world faces with Covid will naturally put delays on the club\’s plans.
\”The centre of excellence will take up 14ha which will leave us with another 18ha of usable land,\” said McGrath. \”There will, naturally, need to be earth works to build up areas of the complex.
\”All this will be easily overcome.
\”We expect to spend $4 million on buying the complex, putting in a new roadway into the block, and buying fill, plus all the planning, Council approach etc before we even lay one brick.\”
McGrath says the grandstand complex will be very much in the mould of the former GRA complex at Albion Park with office, restaurant facilities etc above a 60m long kennel block underneath.
He said it was an interesting aside to the purchase that Norm Ahrens\’ son Brian is now on the Tweed Club board as is close relation Ian Ahrens.
Norm and Harry Pledger originally bought the Border Park land site.
And, Norm Ahrens originally owned the site at Chinderah where the club has bought to establish its new complex.
McGrath, his club, and GRNSW know full well they need to get the new greyhound complex passed by the Tweed Council and it will not be an easy task.
\”But we are up for the fight,\” said McGrath. \”We know it will be a full 15-round bout. But greyhound racing has a proud history at Tweed.
\”In my utopia, we could be up and racing within two years.
\”Let\’s hope that is what happens.
\”And I want to especially thank Racing Queensland for its support during our initial search for a site.\”
GRNSW CEO, Tony Mestrov, said the Tweed Club\’s move is a significant mark in the future of greyhound racing in northern NSW.
“It is an incredibly important announcement and critical that greyhound racing has a footprint in Northern NSW, as we have such a large greyhound population and strong participant base in the region,” Mestrov said.
“Not only will this be a state-of-the-art facility with straight and circle racing tracks, but it will also be a greyhound precinct which will provide other services to the industry.\”
Pictured: The former Tweed track which sold in 2016 for $16million