May 10 was a launch date of sorts for the Maryland Horse Park concept. That was the day that the Maryland Stadium Authority released its feasibility study for the “Maryland Horse Park and Agricultural Education Center” at the former Naval Academy Dairy Farm site near Gambrills.
This site is, of course, the one selected by a committee put together last year to evaluate possible horse park locations around the state. Ultimately, sites in six different coun-
ties were considered, with the Anne Arundel location eventually deemed to have the best combination of attributes, including maximum accessibility to both tourists and horse people, superior transportation options, and good nearby support facilities (hotels, restaurants, etc.).
The Naval Academy owns the property, which has recently been leased for organic farming purposes. But the Department of the Navy is exploring long-term options for use of the property, and has shown strong interest in the Maryland Horse Park project because it would represent a stable long-term tenant who would create a facility with strong agricultural and environmental overtones, along with a public purpose.
Concerns & Opposition
Anne Arundel County officials, on the other hand, have been far more cautious in their public comments about the Maryland Horse Park
proposal. Retiring County Executive Janet Owens has expressed concerns about the county’s role and responsibilities (meaning how much
money the county would have to spend on the project). Meanwhile, various county executive candidates have either opposed the proposal or
taken a “wait and see” approach.
A local opposition group has emerged under the romantic title of “WeCare” (as opposed to WeDon’tCare?). It has been noisily spreading misinformation about the possible effects of this horse park “calamity” upon the Gambrills citizenry. The group’s main concerns appear to be the legitimate issues of traffic, noise, and nighttime activities, all of which
have to be addressed. But its rhetoric suggests that, even if good answers are forthcoming on those matters, it will support the horse park as long as it is built someplace else.
The 2006 session of the General Assembly passed with no action being taken to authorize the project to proceed, as was expected. So we
are left now to await the outcome of the November elections while trying to build support for the horse park concept and, specifically, for the Anne Arundel County location.
The feasibility study was conducted by a team of professionals hired by the Maryland Stadium Authority. That team’s purpose was to evaluate the economic potential for the horse park at the Anne Arundel site and to develop a detailed site and infrastructure plan. The firms involved in the study brought
a wide range of expertise to the eff-ort, including experience in developing major equestrian facilities, large-scale land use projects and significant public assembly facilities. The Maryland Horse Park design features a park-like setting spread over the 875-acre site, with the necessary facilities to host a wide variety of equestrian events in a way that will minimize
off-site traffic congestion and provide plenty of land for community uses, such as youth sports practice and playing fields.
An Economic Delight
The core of the study lies in the analysis of costs and economic benefits to the area around the site, as well as to the county and the state. In order to justify the estimated $114.16 million in costs to build a world-class facility, the economic impact of the horse park needs to be substantial, and it is.
The MSA study indicates that the annual spending resulting from the horse park’s location at that site would be $122.5 million, the vast majority of that coming from visitors
– many from out of state – who would otherwise not visit Maryland or Anne Arundel County. Equally important is the fact that taxes generated by those visits would be in
excess of $9 million annually, with $6.8 million of that going to the state and $2.29 million to the county.Those numbers are critical
because they provide the basis for supporting the state and county funded bond initiatives that would build the park. In this instance, it is extremely likely that the tax revenues generated would more than cover the debt service on the bonds, thus making the project an economic development delight, and giving the state and local jurisdictions the benefit of significant economic spin-off without requiring taxpayer subsidies.
This is meaningful because it is unusual. As an example, the world-renowned Kentucky Horse Park runs at an operating loss every year but brings so much business to the Lex-
ington area – not to mention the positive image it projects for the state – that legislators are comfortable supporting the operation. Estimates on the Maryland Horse Park in Anne
Arundel County indicate that it would break even operationally, at worst.
Remember, too, that the study is almost certainly very conservative in its economic projections, given the population base, demographics and tourism potential in the Baltimore-Washington market. Never has an equestrian facility of this caliber been constructed in the United States in such a setting, and those best ac-
quainted with this project feel that it is likely to significantly exceed the economic forecasts that are part of the MSA study. They also feel that it would provide Maryland with a unique, environmentally sensitive attraction that is a wonderful offset to the rapid residential and retail development that is consuming so much of central Maryland.
Back to Politics
So why aren’t we talking about a timetable for execution, instead of wringing hands over whether this can happen?
The answer, of course, is that this is a political project, something that realistically will only get done with the support of local and state government.
You’re probably saying, “God, not politics again.” However, projects of this magnitude, which are intended for public use, essentially happen because their economic and aesthetic values are too compelling to ignore. For these reasons, there are stadiums in downtown Baltimore with professional baseball and football teams, along with convention and conference centers and other facilities that add to the “public weal.”
For the Maryland Horse Park to become a place you can visit and enjoy, the Maryland horse industry has to engage in the political process and make this a priority until the day that ribbon is cut at the park’s opening.
The 2006 elections are, of course,
pivotal on a number of levels, in-
cluding the opportunity to move
the horse park initiative forward.
Talking It Up
The focus, of course, needs to be on the Naval Academy site in Anne Arundel County, which has the ideal size, location and agricultural heritage to be a world-class equestrian park. This means active support of a public awareness campaign mounted by local supporters of the horse park initiative, both as a means of informing Anne Arundel’s citizens
about the particulars – the site plan and the economic impact – and keeping elected officials (and aspiring elected officials) in touch with the idea.
Support is a seven-letter word for you. The Maryland Horse Council will serve as a conduit for industry support of the horse park through a combination of volunteer work, financial assistance to the newly formed Anne Arundel Horse Council, and political action.
None of this can happen, though, unless you and other industry participants donate money and energy to the cause.
To get this dream to the groundbreaking stage will require a meaningful ongoing effort to “talk up” the idea – not only in the horse community, but in Anne Arundel County, with the elected officials who make the decisions to move such projects forward. That will take both
people and money; not a huge amount, but enough to stir the political fires at the county and state levels.
This is NOT a test. It is, instead, an opportunity to create something that will be a lasting signature for the horse industry and the state of Maryland.
We can choose to be world class, or settle for “same old” class.
Editor’s Note: Timothy Capps is
the former executive vice president
of the Maryland Jockey Club and,
before that, the Maryland Horse
Breeders Association. He is cur-
rently working as a consultant in