Avondale Jockey Club wants to lease out part of its racecourse land for commercial uses.

Property managers from large-format shopping stores, medical centre owners and retirement home operators have made approaches, seeking a portion of the 30ha Avondale Racecourse.

A decline in the number of meetings, rising costs, demand for better stakemoney and constant commercial sector pressure have forced the club to consider leasing out part of the grounds it has owned for 117 years.

Since an approach two years ago from The Warehouse, the club has been investigating options for land near the Ash St/Rosebank Rd corner.

But first it has to get the Auckland City Council approval.

Club president John Boyle said the loss-making organisation needed more income to increase the stakes. One way to generate more cash was to lease part of the land and one grandstand, built around the 1940s, would be demolished.

The club generates about $550,000 in annual rental revenue and pays about $150,000 in land and water rates, Mr Boyle said, but the cost of land and building maintenance was rising.

"We're not talking about selling land," he said. "We're talking about better utilisation, which means leasing. We're looking at changes in use for some of the land."

Ground in the centre of the track was already used for rugby and cricket but other portions of the site could be leased on long-term tenures.

Avondale held 16 race meetings annually, down from 22 a decade ago. The club's gross annual betting turnover was $22 million, Mr Boyle said.

Leasing land would not affect the Avondale Sunday Markets, which drew up to 20,000 people.

The grounds have been in the club's hands since 1888 when land owner Moss Davis gave a large area to a partnership headed by Michael Foley and Harold Hayr.

That partnership later became the Avondale Jockey Club Inc.

In the same year, contracts were let for the construction of a racecourse to be built on low-lying farmland near the top end of Rosebank Rd and the inaugural meeting was held in 1890.

Mr Boyle said the club was heading in the same direction as the Auckland Racing Club at Ellerslie, which carved off some of its site for commercial purposes.

The Ash St land is zoned for horse racing uses, so the club is seeking to have it rezoned for commercial uses.

Discussions are under way with Auckland City planning manager John Duthie, Mr Boyle said, and once agreement was reached between the council and club, a formal application would be made for a plan change enabling the land's zoning to be altered for its new use.

In 2001, Auckland City identified the potential for Avondale Racecourse to be converted into an intensive housing estate. If the course was redeveloped, a third of the land would be rezoned for high-density housing, the council said in its liveable community plan at the time. The other two-thirds would become open space.

But the president at the time, Ivan Sapich, said the club had 15 sports fields in its centre, was used by clubs, schools and the community and would never sell its land.

Ellerslie has a masterplan for its land in the next decade.

Auckland Racing Club chief executive Chris Weaver said it wanted to be a landlord rather than a vendor.

"The board has undertaken a lengthy investigation into the possible uses and development of the different land areas within the racecourse grounds," he said.

"Through these findings, a masterplan has been developed which outlines a 10- to 15-year development plan. The land we have at Ellerslie is our most valuable asset and we don't intend to start selling it.

"We believe the best way to utilise the land is through development and then rental so that ownership is retained and, in a sense, we then become landlords.

"This then gives us the ability to filter overflows back into racing, which is the reason we exist."

Racecourse milestones

April 26, 1890: Inaugural race meeting held.

1913: Electric starting gates installed and new totalisator introduced.

1921: Questions about jockey safety raised, resulting in jockeys' strike.

1940: Land used by military for training and exercising - racing moved to Ellerslie.

1977: Women allowed to be members, a proposal from president Dick McElroy.

1985: Fire destroys landmark Derby Grandstand.

1987: First night racing in the Southern Hemisphere starts.

1993: Ash St land sale for service station reduces club's debt to $1 million.