Dania Jai-Alai to be sold for $65.5 million

Sun Sentinel

The 60-year-old Dania Jai-Alai building could soon come under a new owner, Dania Entertainment.


Current owners Boyd Gaming said they are selling the property for $65.5 million,  after paying $152 million for the fronton in 2006.

In recent years, the crowds at Dania Jai-Alai have thinned with the advent of newer and snazzier gaming ventures such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino.


But if this latest transaction sounds familiar, it's because Dania Entertainment tried to buy the property once before.

In 2011, Boyd terminated an $80 million deal with Dania Entertainment after it said the latter failed to meet a payment deadline.

Records show the group is headed by the businessmen Harris Friedman, Louis Birdman, Barton Seidler and Steven Levy.

On Thursday, Boyd said it expects the transaction to close on or before May 24.


While Dania Entertainment has not publicly commented on the sale or on its current plans for the venue, the prospect of a new and improved Dania Jai-Alai thrills city leaders.

"I do think it would bring more [foot] traffic," Mayor Walter Duke said. "Back in the 1970s and 1980s, it was packed every night."

That was before competition arrived via the Hard Rock, Gulfstream and other gambling outlets throughout South Florida.

Dania Beach officials are hoping the new owners can help bring in big crowds again.

"I got a call this past weekend from one of the [Dania Entertainment] principals," Duke said. "They said they settled with Boyd and would be closing within the next 75 days. We're excited about working with them."

Initial plans called for transforming the aging fronton into an $80 million casino with a hotel, restaurants, bars, lounges, shops and a marina.

It was unclear Thursday whether the new development would include the same plans.

Marc LaFerrier, the city's director of community development, said it's still too early to say.


"They haven't submitted anything," he said. "They have not officially met with my department to tell us what they are doing."

Duke said the new owners plan to renovate the building and grounds as part of Phase 1. The next phase would involve building a hotel, possibly with up to 300 rooms.

"They wanted to create an entertainment venue inside, gut the place and modernize the exterior of the building," Duke said. "I don't think they've nailed the hotel down yet."

Earle Nash, a resident and card player at Dania Jai-Alai for the past eight years, welcomed the news.

"I've heard talk about it," he said. "But you never know which way it's going. I was hoping something would happen with the property. I was hoping something like this would pass."

Dania Jai-Alai is the only Broward County pari-mutuel not to offer slot machines, as is permissible following a voter-approved referendum in 2005. Boyd held off on remodeling the fronton, citing a poor economic climate, an unfavorable slot tax rate from the state and heavy competition from the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood.

The 2011 efforts to build a casino were not without opponents. Bill Scherer, of the law firm Conrad and Scherer, led a citizens group that sued Dania Beach over the project, saying it rushed the development order and improperly approved it after holding only one public hearing. He objected to the expediency with which Dania Beach officials approved the project. Scherer wasn't available for comment Thursday.

Dania Beach resident Katherine Wright has been to Dania Jai-Alai once, with an ex-boyfriend about 15 years ago.

Not a fronton fan, she has not been back since. But if the new project brings in more restaurants and shops, she says she'll be back.

"Boy, oh boy, we sure can use some decent restaurants around here," Wright said. "I don't enjoy a lot of traffic, so I wouldn't care for that. But a decent restaurant would be nice."