The 430th session of the Maryland General Assembly began on January 11, 2012 and will adjourn in 90 days. Each session, Maryland legislators generally tackle well over 2,000 bills, a relatively small proportion of which will affect the equestrian community directly. In this session, the early entered Senate Bill 15, titled could potentially have a long term affect on the horse industry. Senate Bill 15, entitled The Show Place Arena in Prince George’s County – Study Commission, has already generated a storm of opposition from within the equestrian community.
The Maryland Equestrian Foundation opposes Senate Bill 15
By Dorothy Troutman, president, Maryland Equestrian Foundation
The Maryland Equestrian Foundation is opposing Senate Bill 15 for several reasons.
The stated purpose of the study is “to determine how to protect and enhance the competitive position of The Show Place Arena in the public assembly marketplace.” The arena is a multipurpose facility which is but one part of the Prince George’s Equestrian Center.
By not including the entire Prince George’s Equestrian Center in the study, this study automatically excludes the large equestrian shows that require the use of the entire facility. The economic spinoffs of these large shows with thousands of horses and competitors who stay for several days would not be included. No event can be held at the Arena without adequate parking, which requires land at the surrounding Equestrian Center. If there is a large equestrian event at the same time as a large Arena event, parking will be limited as large horse trailers and vans will be using the available space. Any study should include the entire facility so conflicts can be avoided.
Our Park and Planning Commission has already requested that the Stadium Authority conduct two studies: one to evaluate the economic fiscal market and impact of the entire facility and the other to review and evaluate the operational and managerial structure. These studies would be for the Show Place Arena and the surrounding Prince George’s Equestrian Center—the existing show rings and barns, parking areas, and the abandoned Marlboro Race Track and infield. The Commission is also in the process of developing a Master Plan to utilize the entire area for equestrian and other purposes and is arranging a drainage system for the infield.
Prince George’s County is aware that the potential of this facility has not been reached. The County Council formed an Equine Industry Task Force, of which I was co-chair, to study the benefits, requirements and potential of the equine industry in the county. The Task Force recommended that a Master Plan be prepared for the Prince George’s Equestrian Center to determine its full potential. The Task Force also recommended a marketing and “branding” plan for the entire facility and for the equine industry.
The Senate should support the County’s decision to have the Stadium Authority conduct studies on the Prince George’s Equestrian Center, and it can do so by opposing [emphasis added] this bill.
The Equiery concurs with the Maryland Equestrian Foundation, and is equally disturbed that the state government would ostensibly attempt to study the Show Place Arena in isolation and not within the context of the Prince George’s Equestrian Center.
The Equiery finds most of the language in the bill disturbing.
For example, the Arena is defined as “ a multipurpose arena in Upper Marlboro… used for concerts, sporting events, trade shows, and other events.” There is no mention of the equestrian events for which it was designed as part of the Prince George’s Equestrian Center.
The bill includes statements that are subjective conclusions, such as “the Show Place Arena has benefited from strong marketing and outreach by its leadership in the past; however, recent administrative changes have raised questions about the commitment and capacity of the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission to effectively own, operate, and manage this facility in the public assembly marketplace…”
As The Equiery reported in print, Prince George’s County officials launched, this summer, an audit of the Prince George’s Equestrian Center, specifically targeting potential spending irregularities by Bill Chambers, who served as the facility manager until the audit began, and who then immediately retired when authorities began looking at the books more closely. (For more details, see this Oct. 17, 2011 article in The Washington Post.)
For Senator Benson (sponsor of the bill) to codify in what could become law that the Arena has “benefited from strong marketing and outreach by its leadership in the past” is, at best, ironic and tone deaf, and at worst an attempt to undermine the County’s audit of Mr. Chambers’ leadership.
(In the interest of full disclosure, The Equiery directly experienced the wrath and retribution of Mr. Chambers. The Prince George’s Equestrian Center is a publicly funded institution; its budgets and projects are approved by our elected officials. Many years ago, after The Equiery questioned a potential financial or appropriations irregularity (specifically, why PGEC had not made certain equestrian improvements, the budget for which had been allocated and approved by elected officials), Mr. Chambers canceled PGEC’s advertising in The Equiery and banned The Equiery from being distributed on the premises. Our readers revolted, letters to the editor poured in, and Mr. Chambers was forced to restore distribution of The Equiery at the Equestrian Center. But Mr. Chambers nursed the grudge, refusing to renew PGEC’s marketing contract in the only horse publication serving all breeds and all equestrian activities in the state of Maryland. So, while The Equiery has no confirmation of spending irregularities, we certainly found questionable-–and suspicious–that horse projects with approved funding never seemed to materialize.)
Regardless of what drew our skepticism, apparently Mr. Chambers’ superiors found their own reasons to question the financial activities of PGEC and the Show Place Arena.
According to the Washington Examiner, the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission, which owns and operates the facility, has asked that the Maryland Stadium Authority review the PGEC operations and facilities. MNCPPC underwrites the $4 million in losses for the prior fiscal year, and elected officials are interested in determining whether the PGEC can be self-sustaining with its current mission and focus, or whether that mission and focus need to be adjusted in order to the facility to be self-sustaining.
So, if PG County leaders and the MNCPPC have already asked the Maryland Stadium Authority to conduct a study, why does the state need to authorize yet another study? And why is Senator Benson, in SB 15, attempting to have the state place an official seal of approval (“strong marketing and outreach by its leadership in the past”) on behavior that is currently undergoing scrutiny via an audit?
Perhaps the state does need to conduct its own study, but doing so at this moment undermines MNCPPC’s attempt to do the right thing by conducting its own audit. The state should wait for the results of the Commission’s Study and then determine whether an additional study is needed.
In the meantime, there is new leadership in place at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center, and there is evidence that they are truly implementing strong marketing plans. Shouldn’t this new leadership also be given the opportunity to prove itself?
If and when it is determined that the state needs to conduct its own study, then said study should encompass the entire campus (the entire Prince George’s Equestrian Center, including outdoor arenas and stabling) and not isolate the Show Place Arena. Studying the Show Place Arena without the context of the greater equestrian facilities would surely do a disservice to the variety of horse groups that lease the entire facility, from Equestrian Sports Promotions which leases the facility for its 10-day Capital Challenge to the Potomac Valley Dressage Association’s Ride-4-Life.
Senate Bill 15 should be killed.
The Maryland Horse Council Opposes Senate Bill 15
By Steuart Pittman, president
Members of the Maryland Horse Council support the position taken by the Citizens Advisory Committee for Prince George’s Equestrian Center in opposing SB 15 as it is written.
Studying the viability and future of the Show Place Arena without recognition that it exists as the centerpiece of the Prince Georges Equestrian Center is a disservice not only to the 40,000 Marylanders who comprise our horse industry, but also to the surrounding community.
Any study regarding the Show Place Arena without significant involvement from the horse industry is destined not only to be irrelevant to the community that uses and supports the facility, but creates a conflict where none may exist.
A good starting place for legislators to educate themselves about the role of the horse industry, the Prince George’s Equestrian Center, and the Show Place Arena is the recent report of the Prince George’s County Equine Industry Task Force.
Follow MHC’s legislative activity on the Maryland Horse Council Legislative Blog.
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