There's a Way to Keep Horse Racing Alive and Help Our Economy and Environment

Friday, August 19, 2016

I never liked the idea of turning the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston and Revere into a resort casino.  Being from Revere, I feel strongly that there are better uses for that property than gambling.  The city and its people will be better off if their future is not chained to a casino.    

I can see a beautiful housing development arising one day on the  old Suffolk Downs, a project that capitalizes on the site’s two abutting Blue Line train stations and its proximity to Revere Beach, the first public beach in the nation and still one of the best and safest natural beaches in the U.S. 
Except for one thing, I was not sorry when the Gaming (Gambling) Commission rejected the Suffolk Downs casino bid and gave the Eastern Massachusetts casino license instead to Steve Wynn, whose team is now building their casino in Everett, a few miles from the all-but-dead racetrack.

That one thing would be horses and horse farms.  More precisely, I’m talking about the preservation of open spaces and farmland.
There are more than a thousand farms, out of nearly 8,000 farms overall in Massachusetts, devoted to the breeding and care of horses. 

During the years it was striving to secure a casino license, Suffolk Downs constantly pointed to the value of these horse farms, job-wise and economic-impact-wise.  It warned of dire consequences for these farms if it did not get the casino license and had to close the track.  There was only a little hype in those warnings.
Now comes the University of Massachusetts to tell us there’s a way to reinvent horse racing in the Bay State and keep those horse farms, which represent 30 percent of all the agricultural land in the Commonwealth, from becoming house lots, apartment complexes, office parks, strip malls and the like.

Last month, the Center for Economic Development, part of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the UMass, Amherst, released a study proposing the creation of a horse park on approximately 150 acres in some rural or suburban part of the state with good access to the kinds of roads that would make it fairly easy for large numbers of persons to drive there.  Ten possible sites are identified in the study.
The horse park would feature a large track for thoroughbred horse racing, an equestrian center capable of hosting a variety of events, such as dressage competitions and hunting/jumping contests, and a retirement and retraining farm where up to 40 retired racehorses could be housed

“Thoroughbred racehorse breeding is an important component of the Massachusetts Equine Industry, whose vitality is directly tied to the availability of racing opportunities within the Commonwealth,” the study notes.

The new racetrack would account for $66.3 million in annual economic output and sales statewide, and support the creation of 664 full-time jobs, which would add roughly $38 million of labor income to Massachusetts households.
The study predicts that the equestrian center would generate $31.7 million in annual output and sales, and create 280 full-time jobs good for $14.5 million in household income.

Further, the study suggests that the retirement/retraining farm would become a significant tourist destination, requiring 11 full-time employees.  The total economic impact of this part of the horse park is estimated at $800,000 per year.
The three authors of the UMass study, who include two professors with doctorates, say the park could be developed at a total cost not likely to exceed $150 million.  They suggest paying for the park with loans backed by state's Race Horse Development Fund, made up of a small percentage of the proceeds from taxes on casino gambling.  The fund now holds close to $24 million, a sum that will fast grow larger when casinos under construction in Springfield and Everett open for business.  

In a world where some National Football League teams are said to be worth $2 billion, $150 million for a horse park hardly seems like a ridiculous or impossible dream.

The natural endowment of Massachusetts is beyond priceless.  The land itself has always been and will always be the most valuable thing in Massachusetts.  Unquestionably, the horse park would help to preserve that irreplaceable endowment, that incalculable value.  Our hope for its creation should be a fervent one.
The UMass study, “Towards the Creation of a Horse Park in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: A Feasibility Study,” may be found at:


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