Boston, MA – Sprinkler system activated for fire at press box grandstand

In the aftermath of a six-alarm fire that tore through a section of the old Suffolk Downs grandstand roof late Monday night, May 30, and into early Tuesday morning, on-site simulcasting has been interrupted as officials continue to investigate the cause of the blaze and assess the situation.

“The fire was contained to the press box structure on the roof. The press box, the television control room, the former placing judges’ stand, the stewards’ stand, and the announcer’s booth, that entire area was destroyed,” said Chip Tuttle, the CEO of Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which sold the property to HYM Development Company in 2017 but continues to lease and operate the simulcasting and advance deposit wagering business.

The grandstand has not been in use since live racing ended at the end of June 2019, although the clubhouse has remained open for simulcasting. Suffolk Downs conducted simulcasting Memorial Day and closed at 6:30 p.m. The fire broke out at 10 p.m. in the building that was constructed in 1935.

“Because the television control room was destroyed, we’re going to have some interruption of on-site simulcasting,” Tuttle said. “We’re just trying to ascertain today how long that’s going to be.”

He added that as soon as the fire started, the sprinkler system was deployed, and the Boston Fire Department responded immediately. Boston EMS crews were also on the scene.

The fire was classified as five-alarm by 11 p.m. Monday, and by 12 a.m. Tuesday it was a six-alarm blaze. Mutual aid partners from six additional fire departments across Metro Boston were called in. Boston Fire Commissioner Jack Dempsey was in command on the scene and by midnight ordered all firefighters off the Suffolk Downs roof before the flames surged through it.

The Boston Fire Department tweeted that due to the limited water supply in the area, firefighters had to relay pump to get water to the structure, which is a maneuver that required thousands of feet of hose. Firefighters battled the blaze all night, and although it was contained by Tuesday morning, they were still visible on the scene Tuesday afternoon checking for hot spots and containing them.

HYM Development is in the process of repurposing the 161-acre racetrack property into a multi-mixed use development that will include 10,000 rental apartments, condominiums, office parks, restaurants, retail businesses, and entertainment venues. An official with HYM said May 31 that the fire damage did not affect the portion of the development currently under construction and that the redevelopment is continuing.  

Repairs to the old grandstand are to be determined.

“Whether the building was ultimately coming down or part of it was going to be preserved, I don’t know,” Tuttle said.