Horse racing in Edmonton coming down the home stretch
Northlands drops sport from its 2017 roster with new revitalization plan Vision 2020
It's the end of the trail for horse racing in the greater Edmonton area and northern Alberta — 2016 will be the final season.
On Wednesday, Northlands unveiled Vision 2020, a $165-million project set to renovate its buildings and revitalize its 64-hectare property.
Northlands's big plan is to become a national sports tournament and festival centre, but horse racing is not part of the 137-year-old organization's mega-project.
The racetrack and casino will be converted into part of the festival site.
Northlands and Horse Racing Alberta have had a close-knit relationship dating back a century. But Northlands CEO Tim Reid says times are changing and the company is looking to widen the spectrum of the recreational services it offers to the public.
"We need to build for a future sustainability for Northlands, and not hedge our decision on what happens between the province and HRA," said Reid.
"The horse racing industry is not going away, one track in horse racing is going away."
Mayor Don Iveson agreed with Reid that the Northlands model is evolving, and that change is inevitable.
"Obviously,(losing horse racing) will come as a disappointment to many, but the economics around that are what they are," Iveson said.
"Those decisions are made by others. At this point certainly, we're going to have to adapt."
The city will do its own analysis of Vision 2020 before it commits money to the project. Public input will be sought and council will likely debate the initiative in March.
Shirley McClellan, CEO of HRA, wasn't surprised by the announcement.
"We're disappointed. We understand. Their business model has changed," she said.
"We've known for some time that there was less interest in racing; it was obvious. We wish we had a longer timeframe, no question. This is not a very good timeframe for our industry."
McClellan said the horse racing industry, some 7,000 strong in Alberta, has faced adversity in the past, and she expects it will bounce back in the future.
But there might not be any future for small-scale horse breeders such as Randy Chubak, owner of Sierra Ranch Co.
Wednesday's announcement hit home.
"It's hard for me and hard for a lot of other people," he said. "It could mean just about the end of our small operation."
Chubak's family has been breeding horses for decades. The single dad of two wants to pass the family legacy along to his kids but that may never happen now.
He said he has two choices: Move to where there is another race track or make a career change. He's not crazy about either option.
"For me as a breeder, there's going to be no one buying horses," Chubak said.
"If they don't buy horses, I have nothing. For me … on a small-scale farm, we're done. That's pretty much about it."