Hayden proposes equestrian center

April 24, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

Merryland Farm, given to Baltimore County by a wealthy New York businessman, would become the site of a major equestrian center in a plan unveiled by county officials yesterday at the farm's dedication ceremonies.

The 177-acre property, appraised at more than $4 million, is on Bottom Road on the eastern edge of the historic Long Green Valley area.

Plans call for a 63,000-square-foot, two-level building that would include a large, indoor show ring, bleachers for about 350 people, classrooms, meeting rooms, dining and other facilities.

The county will seek private donations to build the center at an estimated cost of $2.5 million. The center would bring in the money to operate the farm for public recreational uses, County ++ Executive Roger B. Hayden said.

"We would like to develop this into a world-class operation, as well as a fine recreational area for our citizens," he said.

Seymour Cohn, 82, who with his brother Sylvan made a fortune in Manhattan real estate, gave the farm and all its equipment to the county in October.

"I've always loved Maryland, and now you've been given the opportunity to do something for your children and grandchildren," Mr. Cohn said, in accepting the thanks of county officials.

Merryland includes a restored 100-year-old farmhouse with four bedrooms, four baths, three fireplaces, a large den and sitting room, two kitchens and several smaller rooms, plus a cottage and tenant house.

The farm has 82 horse stalls; breeding, yearling and training barns; and a five-eighth-mile track. A six-horse starting gate has been valued at $50,000 by Towson appraiser Frederick P. Klaus.

Wayne Harman, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, said he hopes the farm can be developed for such uses as scouting, education and recreation.

"We want to make it available to as many people as possible," he said.

Mr. Harman said an equestrian center would be a good use because it would fit the rural atmosphere, wouldn't generate heavy traffic and would help to make the property profitable.

"I understand from horse people that there is an incredible demand for indoor facilities," he said.

The county has about 40 stalls rented, and the training track is in steady use. But Mr. Harman said it was not the county's intent to base the farm's future on rentals.

"We would be infringing on private enterprise," he said.

Horseman Charles Fenwick Jr., chairman of a committee to solicit ideas for the property, said he likes the concept of an equestrian center. But he noted the amount of work that will be needed to bring it to fruition.

"There's a long way to go, particularly on getting the money," he said.

County officials have been talking with recreational councils and local college and university representatives on uses for the farm. The county plans open houses June 4 and Oct. 22 and Oct. 23.

The farm is being managed by horse trainer John Rigione and his wife, Carole, through a contract with the county.

Mr. Harman said an equestrian center would be a catalyst for the state's horse industry, which the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development estimates has an annual financial impact of about $1 billion on the state.

Such a center could be used for competitions, officials said.

A recently released study by Malcolm Commer Jr., livestock economist at the University of Maryland College Park, said Baltimore County leads the state in horse ownership, with more than 25,000 people owning at least one. Montgomery County is second, with more than 19,000 people owning horses.

The county began negotiating for Merryland Farm in February 1993 after Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, 2nd District Republican, learned it was available and told Mr. Hayden.

Ann Chanin, who lives in Baltimore and is Mr. Cohn's niece, is a friend of Mrs. Bentley and encouraged her to seek the farm for the county. In yesterday's ceremonies, Merryland was dedicated her late husband, horseman John Chanin.

Mr. Cohn, whose racing operation has produced several stakes winners, including Knightly Manor and Rock Talk, bought Merryland in 1987 from Mrs. Henry Obre, daughter of copper magnate Solomon Guggenheim.

Yesterday, Mr. Cohn, who is on Forbes magazine's list of America's richest men, with a fortune estimated at more than $350 million, talked about his life and success. He began his real estate venture with his brother in 1946, buying and renting office buildings in Manhattan.

"It was like sitting in water and having the water rise and lift you up," he said.

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