Sask. horse racing industry takes Marquis Downs fight to city hall
SASKATOON -- A group of people in Saskatoon tied to the thoroughbred horse racing industry continue to call on city hall and city council to step in and save Marquis Downs.
Earlier this year Prairieland Park CEO Mark Regier announced a partnership with Saskatchewan-based Living Sky Sports and Entertainment to bring a professional soccer team to Saskatoon.
The team would compete in the Canadian Premier League by 2023.
Prairieland Park cancelled the 2020 racing season at Marquis Downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there are no plans for racing to return in 2021.
On Monday a list of speakers ranging from horse trainers, jockeys and agriculture-industry partners asked the city’s committee on planning and development to step in and hold Prairieland Park to a lease it signed with the city in 1995.
Nicole Hein, Saskatoon’s only female jockey was one of many speakers addressing city councillors today. She asked the committee to not allow Prairieland Park to change its operations in a way that eliminated the ag-component at Prairieland Park.
“Prairieland wants to take facilities that they leased from the city in 1995 and knock them over. The city, as the landlord can certainly tell the tenant that they can’t do so,” Hein told the committee in a pre-recorded video. “By letting Prairieland repurpose buildings as they please the city is not protecting the interests of the people that these structures were intended to protect, namely those involved in the racing industry and whose impact statement you are hearing today.”
Councillor Sarina Gersher asked city administration if city hall can prevent Prairieland Park from going ahead with its plans to move or tear down buildings on the site, and if city council needs to approve these changes beforehand.
In response the city’s solicitor said city hall cannot interfere with the business operations of Prairieland Park, and any action like that would result in the city breaking its lease agreement with Prairieland Park.
The speakers asked if the city could expropriate the agricultural buildings on Prairieland Park and turn them over to another tenant.
President of the Horsemen Benevolent & Protective Association (HBPA) Eddie Esquirol claims horse racing is a $37 million a year industry in Saskatchewan - and Prairieland Park is the only place it can happen.
“There's no other place to race, other than Marquis Downs, because they own the license for the pari-mutuel wagering,” he said.
He argued that since Prairieland Park is agriculturally zoned land, they shouldn’t be there to profit from a soccer stadium.