Horse sense

May 15, 2006

The proposal to build a Maryland Horse Park and Agricultural Education Center at the U.S. Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills remains an intriguing concept. A feasibility study conducted by the Maryland Stadium Authority suggests the $114.2 million project could largely pay for itself. Taxes generated by economic activity associated with the park (from admissions to motel stays) would finance its 30-year bonds, and fees levied on-site would potentially cover its operating cost. The impact on the neighborhood appears modest to beneficial, particularly if it ensures that the 875-acre farm is spared further development.

But here's the real payoff: The park could become a national showplace for major equine events from show jumping to rodeos. That would be a huge boost to an already thriving segment of Maryland's horse industry. In addition to a 2,500-seat indoor show ring, there would be a 3-mile cross-country course, a 1-mile steeplechase and a visitors center and equestrian museum. Even the racing industry would benefit - if Fasig-Tipton Co. relocates its thoroughbred auctions there instead of leaving the state.

The project is not without pitfalls, of course. The costs are substantial and shouldn't be borne entirely by the taxpayer. While its daily activities are unlikely to worsen traffic-choked Route 3, weekend events that attract thousands won't improve matters either. Still, these shortcomings might yet be addressed with some tweaking to the plan. Overall, the park may not be a sure thing, but it's certainly a promising foal.

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