When it comes to the future of horse racing at Northlands, things have changed in the last few weeks. City councillors have been told there has been a way found to keep it going for a couple of years, if that’s what is decided.
A plan is emerging that would see racing continue, once later this month, Horse Racing Alberta picks one of four sites in the greater Metro Edmonton area to build a new race track.
“We think that by mid September they’ll be in a position to make a recommendation to our board of directors,” Rick Lelachuer told council about the short list consultants are looking at in the greater metro Edmonton region.
“It will take some time, where ever the location is in the Edmonton area for zoning applications, redevelopment, then construction. So clearly ’17 for sure we would need racing at Northlands Park, and probably either all or some of ’18.”
“I’m quite open to the idea of operating the track for one or two more years,” said Mayor Don Iveson. “It gives us two years with what the neighbors are concerned about, the site going dark, and that two years would align with the area redevelopment planning process.”
“If they can make that work and transfer those jobs and the economic activity in the region, that’s not a bad thing,” the mayor told reporters.
What changed from Northlands’ perspective is the vision in Vision 2020 about using the current racing facility as a concert/ festival venue. “The conversation’s more complex that it was when we went out with Vision 2020 and that’s why we left some room for dialog,” Northlands CEO Tim Reid told reporters.
The confusing message council got was that racing makes money. It also loses money. It all depends on the accounting.
“Over the next two years horse racing would provide positive cash flow. In the long run, when we have to do a significant deferred maintenance piece it would ultimately be better value for money to build on a new site. The other component of it is, if you were to build on a new site, you wouldn’t build on land that’s worth one to three million dollars an acre.”
Can horse racing with bubble gum and bailing wire holding the Northlands facility together work? “You can, yeah,” Reid said. “You can manage the safety issues, you can manage the quality of the track. But as any building that’s almost 70 years old at some point you have to put a sizable investment into it and we would need to do that somewhere in the next ten years.”
City council heard more than 40 speakers at a Vision 2020 meeting Wednesday evening.
And there were mixed feelings for the redevelopment of Northlands.
At the end of the meeting, Councillor Tony Caterina proposed a motion with multiple stipulations including administration needing to secure consent from Edmonton / Northlands to repurpose Rexall Place into a new multiplex.
A report is also needed for cost estimates for the repurposing of the horse tracks and surplus lands.
It also stated that Northlands could continue to use the race track until a new one is built.
Also, the debt on the Expo Centre may be deferred for at least a year.
The motion will be debated on Tuesday when city council continues. (sj/km)