Suffolk Downs Burns as Boston Firefighters Respond to Six-Alarm Blaze

Posted on: May 31, 2022, 12:22h. 

Last updated on: May 31, 2022, 12:01h.

UPDATE 5/31 8:30 AM ET – This story now includes a comment from Suffolk Downs and additional information about the fire.

A six-alarm fire raged Monday night and into Tuesday morning at Suffolk Downs, an old thoroughbred race track in East Boston.

Suffolk Downs fire
Boston Fire Department crews work a six-alarm fire at Suffolk Downs on Monday night. The track has not held live racing in three years. However, it has remained open as a simulcast center while developers plan a mixed-use neighborhood for the 161-acre property. (Image: Boston Fire Department/Twitter)

Suffolk Downs announced on Twitter Tuesday morning no one suffered any injuries.

“Thanks to the Boston Fire Department, the fire was restricted to the old press box on the grandstand roof,” Suffolk Downs said in a statement.

The cause of the blaze was unknown as of 1:15 am ET Tuesday. However, the Boston Fire Department reported its crews had mostly contained the fire just moments later. Some crews, though, continued to check for hot spots. Eight departments from nearby communities assisted in battling the fire.

Earlier, the department ordered firefighters off the roof, as crews pumped water to attack flames from above. The department needed to pump water to the site because of limited availability near the track.

Live racing at Suffolk Downs ended about three years ago. However, the facility has continued to serve as a simulcasting center since then. According to its website, Suffolk Downs was open to take wagers Monday and was slated to close around 6:30 pm ET.

The center was scheduled to be closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Closed Track a Landmark

While the track has been closed for live racing for some time, the nearly 87-year-old facility is considered a Boston landmark. Workers built the track in two months, with it opening in July 1935, a year after Massachusetts lawmakers legalized pari-mutuel wagering. At the time it was built, the 16,000-seat grandstand was the largest in the US, according to the Digital Public Library of America.

The legendary Seabiscuit raced there. Decades later, the Beatles would perform there. But racing would struggle as the years went by. The track closed temporarily at least twice.

Suffolk Downs tried to become a racino when lawmakers legalized casino gaming in the state in 2011. Track officials sought partnerships with both Caesars and later with the Mohegan Sun. However, East Boston residents voted against the proposal.

Meanwhile, residents in nearby Everett got behind a measure that led to the opening of Encore Boston Harbor, owned by Wynn Resorts. Encore opened on June 23, 2019. A week later, Suffolk Downs held its last race day.

Suffolk Downs Redevelopment Plans Underway

Just last week, Suffolk Downs made headlines, as development group HYM Investment Group, the firm that bought the track in 2017, broke ground at the 161-acre site for a mixed-use neighborhood in East Boston. It’s a project, according to Bloomberg News, that will be the biggest single private development in the city’s history.

Technically, the project will straddle both East Boston and Revere.

In all, the firm plans to build out more than 16 million square feet of housing and retail space, as well as office complexes designed to target life science companies. That includes 10,000 apartments and condominiums. HYM CEO Tom O’Brien told the Boston Business Journal the goal is to have nearly half of those units built within the next eight years.

To back the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs, HYM announced last week that it secured $775 million in funding from the pension plan for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Meanwhile, there have been discussions about bringing thoroughbred racing back to the state. However, residents in Plymouth overwhelmingly rejected plans for one in a May 21 town vote. The town reported that 88% of residents, 6,440 out of 7,321 votes cast, voted against the project in the nonbinding vote.

Last week, Plymouth Select Board Chairman Betty Cavacco sent a letter to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. In it, she told the state agency that based on the town vote, the Board plans to formally oppose a plan for a track at its next meeting on June 7.