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Board moves forward with Maryland horse park plans

The Maryland Horse Industry Board is moving forward with plans to create a state horse park by looking to the Maryland Stadium Authority to figure out how to pay for it.

The board has been working on a request for information for a 500-acre park that 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.

But how construction would be paid for and how much money the park would generate are questions needed to be answered before the Horse Industry Board can send out a request for interest for potential sites.

Members from the board and the stadium authority are scheduled to meet May 17. The two parties will go over the original feasibility study to determine what information should be updated before the RFI can be sent.

“They want the meeting, they’re interested in taking on the project,” said Ross Peddicord, executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board. “This is a partnership I foresee.”

But board and state officials said they are proceeding 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.

A 2006 feasibility study showed the park would have had an economic impact of more than $122 million annually, mostly in hotel and sales tax revenue. The project was estimated to cost $114.1 million, and was proposed to be funded by a combination of Maryland Stadium Authority 30-year lease-backed bonds and local and private contributions.

“It’s up in the air; will this be a private-public thing? Is the state going to sell bonds?” Peddicord said. “Nobody has any money, so we have to be flexible on all this.”

In 2006, 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.

The Maryland Stadium Authority was in charge of creating the original study, and will be re-examining it as part of a plan to create a new one or update the original.

“If certain portions of the study can still be considered relevant, it could help cut expenditures down,” said Terry Hasseltine, director of sports marketing for the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing. The meeting will also bring newcomers up to speed on the process used in 2005 to create the park.

“It would also open up and engage other stakeholders now that it’s almost five to six years later,” Hasseltine said.

The 2006 study was planned to ensure compatibility with Olympic-level and Federation Equestre Internationale requirements for equestrian ventures. FEI is the international governing body of equestrian sports.

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.