A Tale of Two Sites
It has been a long, interesting, occasionally cantankerous and always emotional six weeks for the Maryland Horse Park site selection committee as it tried to determine which of the fi nal two sites (Anne Arundel’s Navy Dairy Farm or Cecil’s Fair Hill) would be the focus of the proposed feasibility study. Th e two sites really could not have been more different.
Fair Hill Not the Fairest of Them All
For all intents and purposes, Fair Hill is a horse park, hosting everything from local 4-H shows to some of the most prestigious international competitions in the world. Short of an indoor, Fair Hill already boasted every other amenity required to be “the” state Horse Park – although, admittedly, some of the barns could be rehabbed, and more barns added. From a fi nancial standpoint, Fair Hill would have required minimal initial capital investment compared to a site that will be built from scratch. Fair Hill would definitely have been the short term, fiscally conservative choice, with the minimal amount of environmental impact, as any improvements would have used less than .05% of the 5,000-plus acre park.
But what currently bedevils the organizers of Fair Hill International would continue to bedevil the management of “the” Maryland Horse Park: lack of an easily identifi able urban audience that could not only embrace the activities as spectators, but could provide that oh-so-critical sponsorship and other economic support.
Compounding this would be the siphoning of hotel, restaurant and fuel station revenues by Delaware businesses, thereby ensuring that our neighbor reaped the benefi ts of our investment. And you know, they already have slots; what more do they want from us? Of course, Delaware was quite supportive!
Eventually, organizers realized the error of their ways, and Stadium Authority Executive Director Alison Asti (herself a horsewoman), stepped forward to answer questions. Th e evening ended better than it started, but the hearing organizers lost a lot of credibility with the audience due to their misguided approach.
However supportive our free-loading neighbor might have been, the natives were not so supportive. Yes, the elected offi cials and the business leaders in Cecil County were supportive, but not so the citizens. Over 400 attended the September 19 public hearing in North East, and the very vocal majority expressed its opposition – vociferously.
Th e hearing’s organizers, fearing a mob scene, made the unfortunate decision to format the meeting as a brainstorming session, using hired moderators to lead the audience through one-word expressions of their feelings in order to build a consensus. Alas, this backfi red, as the audience felt that this was a diversionary tactic to separate them from the decision makers. Th ey were off ended, and rightly so. Th ey deserved answers, they deserved to be able to listen to the commissioners who supported the county’s bid, and they deserved the right to direct their questions to the Stadium Authority and site selection committee members. Even if the committee could not provide answers to all those questions, the citizens deserved the right to ask them. If the answer was, “We do not know yet,” so be it. But to be treated like a class of fi rst graders was downright insulting, and when the moderators said, “Please give one-word reasons why you LIKE the Horse Park proposal,” the crowd damn near rioted.
As well they should have, because there had been no presentation of the proposal. Th e moderators’ pleas for audience members to “please read the handout, or go to the website” were patently absurd. Th ose people were there to have the county commissioners, the Stadium Authority and the site selection committee members explain their vision.
Although it has not been anointed THE Maryland Horse Park, as stated earlier, Fair Hill has served as the defacto Maryland Horse Park for decades, hosting world championship competitions in eventing, driving, and endurance, as well as steeplechase racing, local shows and trail riding activities. Fair Hill has already played a critical role in elevating Maryland’s status within the international equestrian community, and is most certainly one of the reasons we have such a large, diverse and thriving sport horse industry.
And Fair Hill has done all this without the recognition of Maryland’s elected offi cials, without the capital investment being discussed for THE Maryland Horse Park.
Like the trophy wife for whom the faithful wife and mother of 30 years is discarded, we do worry that all the buzz surrounding the shiny new toy – THE Maryland Horse
Park – will siphon what little attention and support Fair Hill is currently receiving. But Rob Burk, executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, believes that Cecil County elected offi cials are now more aware of and more supportive of Fair Hill than ever before, and that they will help to ensure that Fair Hill gets the attention and support it deserves.
The Navy Dairy Farm
Well, if Fair Hill had the support of its country leaders but not its citizens, the Navy Dairy Farm had the opposite problem, as, by and large, Anne Arundel Citizens were enthusiasticlly supportive, while County Executive Janet Owen was
Th e original Anne Arundel proposal included the old campus of a former mental institution known as Crownsville Hospital. Janet Owen was opposed to this site for numerous environmental reasons, and the site selection committee also found it by and large unsuitable, choosing instead to focus on the Navy Dairy Farm. Still, Owens was recalcitrant, gun-shy about being accused of supporting an elitist boondoggle and sticking the citizens with the bill – as had happened earlier with an ill-conceived golf course. Supporters worked very hard to convince Owens that the fi scal structure of this project bears no resemblance to the fi scal structure of the golf course debacle, and eventually the county executive gave her grudging support to the Horse Park proposal.
Unlike Fair Hill, which is owned by the state of Maryland, the dairy farm is owned by the United States Navy, subject to federal restrictions, and therefore mired in a web of bureaucratic red tape. In order to convince the site selection committee that the red tape could be overcome, local horse people had to mount an aggressive grassroots campaign, pulling every chit and every favor that they could to expedite the untangling of the red tape.
In the meantime, the Anne Arundel County hearing was very civilized, with the majority of attendees supportive. Th ose opposed were primarily neighbors concerned about traffi c and noise. Th e site selection committee took careful notes of their concerns.
What Fair Hill lacks in location, the 800-acre dairy farm has in spades, sitting in the middle of the D.C.-Baltimore-Annapolis triangle and providing the opportunity to develop a strong urban identity for spectators and sponsors. Highways, restaurants, hotels, gas stations – all the necessary infrastructure is not only already there, it is all in our own state, ensuring that Maryland reaps the intended residual fi scal rewards.
Not Yet a Horse Park
Th e Navy Dairy Farm site was recommended unanimously by the Selection Committee, which consists of Alison L. Asti, executive director, Maryland Stadium Authority; Gary A. McGuigan, project executive, Maryland Stadium Authority; Dennis M. Castleman,
assistant secretary, Department of Business and Economic Development; Sue Kenney, project manager, Department of Business and Economic Development; James B. Steele, chairman, Horse Industry Board; Charles C. Fenwick, Jr.; and Gregory Gingery. It was approved by the Maryland Stadium Authority board on October 10.
Th e Maryland Stadium Authority has engaged a design partnership fi rm of Richter Cornbrooks Gribble Inc./Gh2 Gralla Architects LLC to prepare a conceptual design and analyze infrastructure needs. Additionally, KPMG has been engaged to prepare an eco-
nomic impact analysis.
“Th e Maryland Stadium Authority looks forward to working with RCG and Gralla Architects, a nationally recognized equestrian architect, to evaluate the feasibility and cost of the project. If the studies demonstrate that the project is feasible, the Authority hopes to introduce authorizing legislation to fi nance the project during the 2006 session of the Maryland General Assembly,” said Gary A. McGuigan, project executive of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Th e feasibility study will provide the U.S. Navy with the detailed information it needs to determine whether the proposed use is compatible with its desire to retain the property’s rural and agricultural nature while meeting the Navy’s economic needs. It will also provide the county and state with a detailed economic impact analysis.
As Jim Steele reiterated, “Th is is not yet ‘the’ Horse Park; this is the site selected for a feasibility study to determine if the site is suitable to BE the Horse Park.”