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Horse park plans revived by state

Maryland is revisiting the idea of building a state horse park — designed to boost tourism — after plans to construct one were dropped four years ago.

The Maryland Horse Industry Board met Tuesday to work on a request for interest in a state horse park that would take up about 500 acres of land. That land would be used for competitive riding events, steeplechase, show ring sports, dressage, polo matches and other activities to bring in visitors and boost horse industry tourism efforts.

“When we met for a horse summit in 2009, a horse park was one of the top things people wanted,” said Jim Steele, chairman of the board. “People want a horse park.”

But board and state officials said they proceed with work on the horse park cautiously, after original plans for the park were scrapped and the economy sank. The Maryland Stadium Authority, along with the Horse Industry Board, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and the Department of Agriculture, sought a site for a state horse park in 2005.

“This is a very challenging task because this issue has arisen in the state before,” said Terry Hasseltine, director of sports marketing for the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing.

The horse park was part of a strategic plan for the state’s equine industry, which is worth $5.6 billion, according to the Horse Industry Board’s 2010 Equine Census. The value of Maryland’s equine inventory was just over $746 million, up 10 percent from 2002.

The state would have patterned the project on the 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., which draws nearly 1 million visitors annually to its horse shows, museum and campground. Hasseltine, who worked for the Kentucky Sports Authority before coming to Maryland, was asked to help the industry board create a park that would make Maryland viable for booking major national and international equine events. The 2006 study of the horse park was planned and programmed to ensure compatibility with both Olympic-level and Fédération Equestre Internationale requirements for equestrian ventures. FEI is the international governing body of equestrian sports.

“I definitely think we have all the right components to do it,” Hasseltine said. “The question is, can we bring all those components of what the horse park can be? That’s the challenging part of anything on this grand of a scale.”

Board members and state officials visited Kentucky’s state horse park last year. Since then, said Steele, Earl F. Hance, Maryland’s agriculture secretary, has expressed interest in seeing a horse park finally happen.

The horse board has worked with the Department of Agriculture on the request for interest, which it is still drafting. The board plans to release a request for proposals after seeing how much interest there is in the park proposal, said Ross Peddicord, executive director of the board.

A horse park in Maryland would have had an economic impact of more than $122 million, mostly in hotel and sales tax revenue, according to a 2006 feasibility study by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Anne Arundel County’s Naval Academy Dairy Farm was chosen by the state from among six possible locations. But after strong local opposition, the proposal was dropped in 2007.

Since then, officials from Howard, Harford and Prince George’s counties have considered individual ideas for a county horse park and conducted feasibility studies based on the stadium authority study, but no plan has emerged.

Officials from those counties could not be reached for comment.