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UHA needs $80 million for racetrack project

May 22, 2009     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Jonathan Huntington, courtesy of The Horses Alberta

The United Horsemen of Alberta need to find $80 million to get a proposed racetrack near the Calgary airport off the ground.

At a packed meeting at Edmonton’s Northlands Park Thursday night, UHA executives revealed they need $25 million in cash equity and $55 million in long-term debt financing to re-start construction.

“We will not proceed with construction until financing is in place,” said UHA chief executive Max Gibb. Added UHA manager of communications Eric Leonard: “It’s a tough fight to get it.”

The main financial backers of the racetrack project, UHA showed horsemen Thursday night a new blueprint for the racetrack at Balzac, which is a small community north of Calgary off Highway 2. The new plan shows a two-floor grandstand (50,000 square feet on main floor and basement 30,000 sq ft), with two tracks (one-mile thoroughbred and seven furlongs for harness) at a projected cost of $164 million.

But Gibb made it clear the $80 million in required financing is needed inside of two months for the racetrack project to be open next spring. “We would like the commitment by the 15th of July so we could make April 2010,” continued Gibb.

Granted a racing licence in 2004, UHA has been dealing with constant problems in its quest to build a track. Originally scheduled to be open in 2007, it was first pushed back because of an 18-month battle to get water. Now the North American financial crisis has stalled the project.

“We had all the financing,” claimed Gibb, “then in December (of 2007) the bank pulled out.”

Compounding the problems in Alberta is the fact Stampede Park is out of the racing business at the moment – leaving Calgary without a racetrack this year. It has all led to plenty of frustration in the industry, which explains the standing-room only crowd of an estimated 175 people at Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s a shame what’s going on. It’s a disaster,” barked one disgruntled fan at Gibb during the question and answer period. “We have lost owners, fans. You haven’t got the money. If you can’t do it, get someone who is competent. This can’t go on.”

Gibb took plenty of criticism from horsemen, but also received some support at the meeting.

“This will become one of the most iconic projects in the province of Alberta,” Gibb remarked. “Total land development and all of the development is $1.5 billion. The racetrack will be the centre of that project. Our vision is to own and operate a profitable world-class horse-race track and racing entertainment centre. It will be a name that will be known as much and as well as Spruce Meadows, the Stampede and even the Rocky Mountains.”

For more speculation about horsemen's options, see Huntington's story at: