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Arkell purse worth $70 million annually

Imagine you're a provincial cabinet minister. Despite your usual optimism, you're in the dumps lately about the ill-fated auto and manufacturing sector.

Car, truck and widget companies aren't exactly lined up at your door seeking permission to build new assembly plants. In fact, they're leaving in droves.

Then comes a report claiming a different kind of horse power — the kind that comes from real horses — could give the Guelph-Wellington area a $70 million-plus annual boost, and create 300 jobs.

All this, without gambling, racing, pollution or excessive noise.

Who would let that opportunity go?

The report, released last week by the Guelph-based George Morris Centre, adds weight to arguments fielded over the past year or so about the wisdom of developing a world-class equine research, education and performance centre near Arkell, where Puslinch Township meets the City of Guelph.

The proposed centre would be called the Ontario Equine Centre.

The 600 acres it would sit on are owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario. It currently serves as an agricultural field research station for the University of Guelph.

But due mainly to urban encroachment and sprawling subdivision construction in Guelph's south end, the land's no longer suited for intensive agricultural activities, such as the current pig and poultry research operations located there.

But it is ideal for horses. Their manure will be hauled off site, no intensive cropping will take place on the land and most of the property will be pasture. Suburbia loves green. It could be a great fit.

Before the plan gets too far along, though, the province needs to approve the land for Ontario Equine Centre purposes.

Last month, local politicians formed a coalition to show their municipalities support the land being used for the equine centre.

They like the fact the envisioned centre would be open to the public. It would include a large indoor event, show and sales facility, an outdoor show jumping facility, two training tracks, a polo field, a cross-country course and a campground.

The University of Guelph, along with the six major national and provincial equine organizations, would be a partner in the non-profit centre, and would conduct much of its equine research and continuing education programming on the site.

A key to all this is the 2015 Pan Am Games, which will be awarded early next fall. Toronto is a strong contender, and it needs to find potential venues to host various sports, including all equine events. The bid is being pulled together now.

That's where the Ontario Equine Centre comes in. President Jean Szkotnicki, who is also president of the Guelph-based Canadian Animal Health Institute, says Arkell could get the nod for the Games — along with money to build facilities — if the land is available for such development when the bid comes through.

And as the George Morris Centre says in its report, when the Games leave town, the region would continue to prosper because of the lasting legacy it will leave. The ongoing education and research aspects in particular give the centre an edge over private facilities likewise vying to host the equine portion of the Games.

For its part, Puslinch is solidly behind the proposal.

"The equine venue for the proposed 2015 Pan Am Games will be selected in the next couple of weeks," says Mayor Brad Whitcombe.

"There is considerable urgency to . . . designate the Arkell property for the Ontario Equine Centre's purposes."

Whitcombe wants this historically significant and environmentally sensitive property to remain "green."

Other potential land uses, such as more subdivisions or light industry, wouldn't achieve the same visionary outcomes as the equine centre.

The decision is down to the wire and the purse is huge.

We'll see shortly if Guelph-Wellington is picked as a winner.

About The Author

Urban Cowboy

Raising awareness and promoting dialogue about current food and agriculture issues.

OWEN ROBERTS

Owen Roberts – journalist, columnist, educator – provides an urban perspective on agri-food issues.

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