Marje Everett, chairman and chief operating officer of Hollywood Park, Friday summarily rejected a call for her resignation and dismissed as wishful thinking proposals that would end thoroughbred racing at the Inglewood track.
Comparing the suggestions made by shareholder Thomas W. Gamel to “a tooth fairy’s dreams,” Everett said she was more disappointed than angry at a letter Gamel had sent to her, to other shareholders and to the media.
In the five-page letter, Gamel, who owns about 4% of Hollywood Park stock, called for Everett’s resignation and outlined a plan that he said could save the company from the “definite prospect” of bankruptcy.
Included in Gamel’s proposals were plans:
--To sell the company-owned Los Alamitos race track and adjacent property, even at a loss.
--To no longer be involved in quarter horse or harness racing.
--To stop thoroughbred racing at Hollywood Park and lease the racing dates the track owns to Santa Anita and Del Mar.
--To use the track’s Cary Grant Pavilion as a simulcast facility for all thoroughbred racing, including that at Santa Anita.
--To use the Hollywood Park track itself as a training facility and a place for horse sales, and to develop the rest of the Inglewood property, one possible use being a football stadium.
“He must be aware, or he should be aware, that many of the suggestions that he has made could not be done legally,” Everett said Friday.
When it was suggested that Gamel’s plans were perhaps contingent upon legal and other hurdles being cleared, she said:
“That’s like a tooth fairy’s dreams. I would like to be able to have a lot of things in life, but . . . “
Everett strongly denied that the track faces the possibility of bankruptcy or of defaulting on its almost $100-million debt.
“Absolutely not,” she said when asked if bankruptcy were a prospect. “We recognize (the failure to sell Los Alamitos because of the defeat of a rezoning initiative) has put a crunch on us from doing some of the things we’d like to do, but actually our financial statement was substantially better last year than it was in 1987.
“We have assets. We have 647 acres. We have two race tracks. We have a number of racing licenses. I can’t believe we’re not going to win (the Los Alamitos zoning matter) in court to begin with, and secondly I can’t believe that the city (of Cypress) can afford not to use those 300 acres in a manner that would benefit the citizens.”
Everett said that she and Hollywood Park General Manager Don Robbins had met with Gamel before he became a major investor--he owns 146,374 shares--and had discussed various ways in which racing in the Los Angeles area could be improved. At that time, Everett said, Gamel had not indicated an interest in taking control.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “I’m disappointed in his representations to Don and to me. I’m glad I had Don sitting in because he can back up what I said. (Gamel) said he had no interest in taking over. He said he had some suggestions and we answered them.”
Gamel, apparently, was not satisfied with the answers and is now trying a different approach.
“Many people in horse racing and other stockholders would embrace the above recommendations which I intend to pursue,” Gamel wrote in his letter, adding that he hopes to create “a groundswell of support.”
“This is not a personal matter but an issue of survival,” the letter said.
Asked whether she viewed the letter as a personal attack, Everett said: “Of course I did. Of course I did.”
She said she would be responding to Gamel in writing, but said that since the response had not yet been drafted, she could not tell what form it would take. She did address some of Gamel’s suggestions, though.
“As far as the (proposed football) stadium goes, that would be the most financially irresponsible thing I could do,” she said. “Neil (former Hollywood Park attorney Neil Papiano) was pushing for the stadium because he was off on an ego trip with the Raiders and (Managing General Partner Al) Davis.
“Why would we consider a stadium when you’ve got Anaheim, you’ve got Irwindale maybe going up, you’ve got the Coliseum and you’ve got the Rose Bowl? How could you justify gambling $100 million or more of your stockholders’ funds? Who would be your tenant? What would they pay?”
Did she think the purchase of Los Alamitos had been a mistake?
“Naturally, I regret what’s transpired,” she replied. “Hindsight is a great thing in life, but unfortunately none of us are blessed with being able to use hindsight.
“My own feeling is that the investment was a wise one at the time. . . . The wisdom of the decision was impacted a great deal by the proliferation of thoroughbred racing dates. When the racing-dates calendar expanded, then the public had a choice of products, and the product they preferred was thoroughbred racing. So that’s hurt the lesser industries, the smaller breeds (quarter horse and harness racing).
“Whether I would take the same gamble today is questionable.
“I’ve always felt you had to spend money to make money. Unfortunately, some of the plans that we had didn’t come to pass because of circumstances which we had no control over, frankly.”
If Gamel, who was part of a partnership that attempted to buy Hollywood Park in 1986, is making a serious takeover bid, how will Everett respond?
“I will meet with certain key persons (after which) I will be in a better position to discus whatever we need to do,” she said.
“I’m not panicking. It (the takeover bid, if that is what it is) just reassures me that the company has tremendous value. I’m representing 5,000 shareholders and I’m working hard as mischief. I don’t draw any salary out of it and I don’t draw any expenses out of it, so I’m not trying to perpetuate myself for a golden parachute (or doing) the things that some people do when they’re worried about a company being taken over.
“I’m doing it because I have a major investment (578,648 shares or 14.65%) in the company, and wouldn’t I be foolish not to do what is in the best interests of the company because I have more at stake than anybody else.
“I’d like to win a popularity contest, but I guess these people that want to knock me can continue to do so.”