Annapolis and Cecil County are the finalists in a competition for proposals to build a state-run equestrian park that could bring in millions of dollars from tourists and recreational riders, the Maryland Stadium Authority announced yesterday.
Though equine matters in Maryland often revolve around racetracks and the betting that goes with them, the proposed horse park would focus on equestrian competitions such as jumping and dressage. The stadium authority, the Maryland Horse Industry Board and the state Department of Business and Economic Development hope to make the center a destination for recreational riders along the East Coast and bolster the state's $1.6 billion horse industry.
The authority announced its decision yesterday evening after considering pitches from six jurisdictions. Proposals from Frederick, Harford, Carroll and Wicomico counties did not make the cut. After consulting with an architectural firm, the authority plans to choose a proposal in the middle of next month, then present the site to the General Assembly for approval next year.
The Annapolis plan features a 1,032-acre site bisected by Interstate 97 in Crownsville. It combines parts of the closed Crownsville Hospital Center, which is owned by the state, the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, the Eisenhower Golf Course and the city's Waterworks property.
Ellen Moyer, mayor of Annapolis and a horse enthusiast -- she owns a thoroughbred mare named Marjorie May -- said she was "honored" that the city had been chosen and stressed the county's historic links to the horse industry, which goes back to Colonial times.
The Cecil bid would use about 800 acres of the 5,613-acre state-owned Fair Hill area. Proponents point out that the site is only nine miles from Interstate 95, serves as headquarters for the National Steeplechase Association and has extensive facilities for equestrian activities.
Both sites have political obstacles to surmount involving the size of the park, which would include a 5,000-seat arena, an outdoor amphitheater, six to 12 outdoor show rings and 800 to 1,200 stalls.
In Cecil, opposition has come from park users -- bikers, hikers and nature lovers -- who have created a Web site opposing development of Fair Hill. The Web site notes that the horse park could bring "a mega-stadium, loudspeakers, food stands, and . . . trash & noise."
Joanne Richart-Young, Cecil's agriculture coordinator, said that she had spoken to opponents and that the horse park would have "minimal, if any, impact" on the people who used the land for other purposes.
Annapolis's bid might be thwarted by Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D). In a reply to an e-mail from county residents asking her to support the park, she noted that "the plan, as envisioned by the City, may be problematic," citing the environmental effects of development, as well as the impact it could have on nonprofit agencies that use the area. Moyer said the city's plan was not to develop the area but rather to restore it to its agricultural use.
Alison L. Asti, executive director of the stadium authority, said local support would be one of several considerations as the group moved forward.
"We advised the team from Annapolis that in order for this to be successful, this would need some local funding," she said. "Certainly, the county and the city would both receive public benefits."