Developer Bets Big on Former Manor Downs Site, Plans Industrial Park

By Shonda Novak, Austin American Statesman

Manor Downs Racetrack

A Dallas firm has purchased the former site of the Manor Downs horse racing track east of Austin, with plans to build an industrial park with more than 1 million square feet of space on the property.

Situated outside Manor on the north side of U.S. 290, Manor Downs was once billed as Texas’ oldest pari-mutuel horse track. The venue closed in 2010 as the sport declined in popularity.

In its heyday, Manor Downs staged everything from horse races to concerts, with performers including the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band, Neil Young and Johnny Cash. 

The venue also was the site of the Farm Aid II benefit concert in 1986 with an all-star lineup. On the bill were Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Jeff Walker and many more.

The next act for the Manor Downs site will be very different.

Dalfen Industrial, one of the nation’s largest buyers and developers of industrial real estate, is buying the entire 146-acre Manor Downs property.

Dalfen plans to build an industrial park on the site with six buildings that will bring more than 1 million square feet of space to an area the company says “benefits from high demand and low vacancy rates.”

The complex is expected to break ground in the second quarter of next year, with an estimated completion in the fourth quarter of 2023. Dalfen said the project will retain the Manor Downs name.

Located 10 miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the industrial park will be within a 30-minute drive of more than1.5 million people, Dalfen executives said.  

“This development is strategically located at the (Texas) 130 and U.S. 290 intersection which provides direct access in and out of Austin,”  Tyler McElroy, director of development and construction at Dalfen Industrial. “With the continued population growth and strong demand drivers of Austin, we are excited to deliver another class A development to the area.”

Including the project planned for the former Manor Downs site, Dalfen said it is developing 2.2 million square feet of industrial properties in the Austin area.

Dalfen currently owns and operates industrial properties with 30 million square feet of space in the United States.

Manor Downs history

The industrial project at the Manor Downs site is replacing a shuttered racetrack and concert venue with a storied history in the Austin area dating to the 1970s. The track hosted live horse racing of quarter horses and thoroughbreds, as well as simulcasts of races held elsewhere.

“We’ve had world champions that have won their first championship at Manor,” Rob Werstler, executive director of the Texas Quarter Horse Association, told the Statesman in a 2010 interview shortly before the track closed. “As far as Manor (is concerned), not racing there is devastating to the quarter horse breeding industry.”

At the time, Texas tracks were facing competition from surrounding states including Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico, which had slot machines and gambling and were luringTexas horse owners and breeders with bigger purses.

“What’s going on is that they’re pretty much leaving the state for greener pastures,” Werstler told the Statesman at the time.

Industrial space in demand

The industrial project planned for the Manor Downs site comes as demand for industrial space “continues to surpass expectations” in the Austin mero area, according to a report from CBRE, a global commercial real estate services firm.

“The spike in demand for logistical and distribution space throughout Central Texas during the pandemic months has spurred a run on industrial space in Austin,” CBRE said.

For the 28th straight quarter, the amount of industrial space leased in the Austin region — on a net basis — remained positive, surpassing 830,000 square feet, CBRE said.

By mid-year, the number of industrial projects under construction in the Austin area increased to 22 new developments totaling 2.5 million square feet of space. That’s up from 17 industrial projects under construction totaling 1.16 million square feet in the year-ago quarter, CBRE said.