Harford revives horse park plan

County Council appoints task force to study possible location, uses and structure

August 08, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

Undeterred after losing its bid for a state horse park, Harford County officials are reviving efforts to build an equine facility and hoping the state will eventually join in the venture.

The County Council voted unanimously last night to appoint a task force that will have 90 days to study potential locations, possible uses and a feasible management structure for the park.

The facility might not be on the scale of the recently scrapped Maryland Stadium Authority's concept, but officials believe it could serve local needs and boost Harford's growing equine industry.

Of the six counties vying for a horse park, Anne Arundel County was chosen by the state. But amid strong local opposition, the proposal to build the park on the former Naval Academy Dairy Farm was dropped.

No such resistance exists in Harford, said County Council President Billy Boniface, a prominent horse breeder and farmer.

"Here we have the ag community and politicians behind the idea," he said. "We want to get back in the mix on this project, and there is a lot of will to move forward locally."

The state's looming fiscal crisis probably will delay any park project for several years, Boniface said.

"We can do a Harford horse park, and if we are quick about it, the state will probably come in with us," he said. "The horse community plays a huge part in Harford County and this would be an opportunity to promote that."

The authority, originally created to build Baltimore's football and baseball stadiums, has branched out to other sports projects. The horse park was part of a strategic plan for the equine industry, which generates nearly $2 billion in revenues for the state annually, according to the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

The state would have patterned the project on the 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which draws nearly 1 million visitors annually to its horse shows, museum and campground.

The Maryland version could have an economic impact in excess of $100 million, mainly in hotel and sales tax revenues, state officials said.

"We have the land, the location and the economic engine to support this effort," said John Sullivan, head of the county's agriculture department.

Harford's task force, which will seek public opinion, will look for a location among the county's nearly 100,000 agricultural acres and decide how the facility would be used and managed.

"There could be long-term revenue benefits with no cost to the taxpayer," said Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti. "It will be up to the task force to study whether this is feasible and, once and for all, come up with a fiscal impact."

The county has more than 18,000 acres devoted to equine ventures, and the latest survey showed horses outnumber cattle, Sullivan said.

"We are strategically located in the Mid-Atlantic region and have the treasure of farms that can be potential sites," Sullivan said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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