The plan to build a state-run horse park in Maryland has drawn a host of county and city governments willing to gamble that classical equestrian competitions such as jumping and dressage will bring in millions of tourist dollars.
Frederick County and Annapolis joined four rural counties in submitting proposals for the park by yesterday's deadline, according to Maryland Stadium Authority officials, who will help choose a plan to submit to the General Assembly next year. Montgomery County was unable to find a location that could accommodate a park as large as the state wants, local officials said.
The stadium authority, the Maryland Horse Industry Board and the state Department of Business and Economic Development have set the bar high for the park, hoping to make it a destination for recreational riders along the East Coast and to bolster the state's $1.6 billion horse industry. The plan's specifications call for at least 500 contiguous acres with easy access to a major highway, a 5,000-seat arena, an outdoor amphitheater, six to 12 outdoor show rings and 800 to 1,200 stalls.
Annapolis has proposed using a 1,032-acre site bisected by Interstate 97 in Crownsville, cobbling together parts of the now-closed Crownsville Hospital Center, which is owned by the state, the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, the Eisenhower Golf Course and the city's own Waterworks property.
Frederick County is suggesting the state pick a 603-acre area in the northern part of the county that is mostly owned by Mount St. Mary's University and Trinity United Methodist Church in Emmitsburg.
The demands were too much for Montgomery County, which was considering a bid, said Derick Berlage, the county planning board chairman.
At least one rival county breathed a sigh of relief at the news of Montgomery dropping out of the race. "Anybody that chooses not to compete, we look at that as a plus," said Vernon J. Thompson, Cecil County's economic development director.
Thompson's proposal is by far the largest of the six. Cecil has suggested using the 5,613-acre state-owned Fair Hill area nine miles off Interstate 95. Fair Hill already serves as headquarters for the National Steeplechase Association and has 75 miles of riding trails used for hiking and biking.
"We think it's the ideal location," Thompson said.
Officials from the other locations were similarly enthusiastic:
* Carroll County is offering a 600-acre site on the Neal property in the northwest part of the county between Westminster and Taneytown.
* Harford County offered a 997-acre site in Havre de Grace, near the former "The Graw" racetrack off I-95.
* Wicomico County suggested the state use an 867-acre site near Hebron, off Route 50.
State officials said the cost of the project would depend on the site chosen and that they haven't developed a financing plan. They compared the project to the Kentucky Horse Park, which receives roughly $1 million in state subsidies a year but generates $17.7 million in state and local taxes and employs 4,000 people. In Maryland, 60 percent of the state's 87,100 horses are used for recreation, according to a 2002 census taken by the Maryland Horse Industry Board.
Peggy Pariso, the president of the Potomac Valley Dressage Association, did not concern herself much with the price or the location. She said the 1,200-member organization founded in Gaithersburg has outgrown Maryland's smaller equestrian centers and has been forced to turn to Virginia to find a horse park large enough for its events.
"We have really been floundering for years because we don't have a facility that can accommodate the kinds of shows that we put on," she said. "Because we can't offer a championship competition, we lose income, we lose the ability to put on shows, we lose bringing more income into the state. We've been without a home, and we're very excited."