A national-quality horse performance park in the county would bring in lots of new money-spending visitors, but would cost around $76 million to develop, according to a new consultant’s report.
The horse park would need around 350 acres, an indoor arena with seating for 4,000 to 6,000 people, stabling for up to 1,000 horses, an exhibition building, offices, outdoor arenas and RV camping areas for those attending multiday horse shows, according to consultant Rod Markin.
County officials have said a horse park should be a “state-of-the-art” facility.
Building that, along with site development and design costs, would come to around $76 million, according to the report.
“It’s a big number,” said David Forkner, another consultant who worked on the study. “These are average costs. These are not necessarily inflated costs.”
Markin also identified the top three sites in the county for a horse park: two are on either site of the Northway in the Moreau-Wilton area, and one is at the corner of Route 67 and Middle Line Road in Ballston.
Markin presented initial findings from a six-month study to county officials and interested residents on Monday in Ballston Spa. His final report will be submitted to county supervisors in January.
The $100,000 study was done under a contract with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, and officials there said it provides grounds for moving forward.
“When you look at $76 million, sticker shock takes over. It shouldn’t,” said William Schwerd, executive director of the county extension office. “This is an important project that should have major impacts.”
The state-funded study was launched in May in response to public interest in building a horse park as a complement to the county’s established equine industry. Saratoga has more horses than any other county in the state, and the state lacks a national-caliber performance venue, according to backers.
Such a place for breed shows, dressage events, hunter/jumper competitions, western events and pulling competitions would draw people from throughout the Northeast, and potentially nationally, Markin’s report said.
Markin, of Maple Grove, Minn., was hired because he has worked on development of equine parks across the country. Markin conducted interviews and surveys to determine whether there’s enough interest within the equine community to justify a park.
Also participating in the study was Forkner, of HOK Smith Forkner of Nashville, Tenn., who designs agricultural show facilities.
“We knew we wanted someone from the outside to come in and take a look at this,” Schwerd said. “They lose money, but they bring so much money into the area.”
Markin said there’s a potential for 38 to 59 horse-related events at the park a year, and about as many clinics, other-animal shows, auctions, and spectator events like concerts. The park could make money, he said, though an annual operating loss is more likely.
But some operating loss can be justified, Markin said, because the economic impacts of the facility would be between $23 million and $48 million a year.
“More than 90 percent of the revenue would come from outside impacts, people coming in from outside the area,” Markin said.
“There’s opportunities for spinoff businesses like hotels and eating and drinking establishments,” he added.
The top three possible sites were identified from among 11 that were given at least some study.
The top-ranked sites are both along Old West Road in Moreau — a 360-acre site west of the Northway and east of Washburn Road, and 381 acres on the east side of the Northway, west of Fortsville Road. Those two sites rank high in part because of their visibility from the Northway, Markin said.
The third-ranked site is 474 acres at the southwest corner of Route 67 and Middle Line Road, about a mile west of Ballston Spa. But that land has significant site constraints. “There’s an awful lot of wetlands on it,” Forkner said.
Schwerd said there have been no actual negotiations with any of the landowners, though they have either offered land or are aware of the county’s interest.
Forkner, who did a master plan for the Saratoga County fairgrounds in Ballston Spa a decade ago, said conceptually there’s no reason why a new horse park couldn’t also provide a new site for the county fair.
Schwerd said no funding sources are lined up, and it would take further discussion to decide how $76 million could be raised and how the facility would be run — whether by a government authority, a foundation, or a private non-profit corporation.
Once the feasibility study is finished, Schwerd said the next move will be up to county supervisors.
“This is not going to be built tomorrow, even if we had the land tomorrow. This is going to be a couple of years’ process,” Schwerd said. “I’m optimistic.”
Charlton Supervisor Alan R. Grattidge, who has closely followed development of the plans, said the cost estimate didn’t surprise him.
“It’s probably a realistic estimate,” he said. “In this economic climate, the question is how you put it together, but it certainly fits in with our themes of promoting agriculture and open space.”