An important issue to me during the 2013 provincial by-election and the 2014 provincial general election was the economy of Fort Erie. Back in March of 2013, I discussed the Track with MPP Kim Craitor and he explained to me that one of the main expenses with operating Fort Erie is its large backstretch. A complication is that the Track was leased from a property developer back in 2013 and is still today. Ideally, the stalls should be rented out all year rather than just during the summer. I got to thinking about this and thought that it would be a good idea to expand its business model. Rather than focusing on horse-racing, I thought it would be better if the Track included an equestrian training facility. It could then also host equestrian events as well as recreation and therapy (see http://www.icanter.ca/) . With suitable programs, Fort Erie could be a tourist destination for travelers interested in horses.
I believe that only the University of Guelph specializes in equine studies in Ontario and yet there are no race track facilities listed as partners. This type of partnership might be able provide a good baseline revenue for the facility. I wanted to see the Ministry of Education create a Fort Erie equine studies campus for an Ontario university.
The provincial government removed the OLG Slots Casino from the Track on April 30, 2012. The casino was key source of revenue for the Town and employed over 200 people. It doesn't look like the Wynne-government will reconsider this decision so I believe that the Track needs to put a Plan-B in place for when all avenues for the Casino's return have been exhausted. I believe that it should reconfigure the old Slots facility into convention centre. The potential Fort Erie convention area would be comparable to the Niagara Falls Scotiabank Convention Centre but would have far better parking and access from the QEW.
During the 2013 by-election, Jim Thibert of the Fort Erie EDTC told me that the Town had already investigated expanding the Track's usage and gave me a copy of Fort Erie Equestrian Trail Master Plan (prepared by ESG International, August 2002). The total construction cost for the three trail loops was estimated to be $5,305,500 with a cumulative total economic impact after year 10 of $384,926,800 - an estimated simple rate of return of an incredible 7,255% over 10 years! The total direct and indirect jobs created after year 10 was estimated to be 410.7 ($12,918/job) and this would be for the equestrian trails only. I would expect that the remote campus would generate a similar return. The investment in Fort Erie equestrian trails would yield a tangible asset at the cost of the round-off error on the money wasted by the previous government. Investing in the Equestrian Trail Master Plan also compares extremely favourably with the 2014 $220 M investment in CISCO (1700 jobs @ $129,412/job).
I believed that the following actions will bring development and jobs to Fort Erie:
- Partner with an Ontario university/college to establish an equestrian/veterinary school of study at Fort Erie
- Make use of the Track's former Slots facilities and repurpose them as a convention centre
- Add other equestrian events to the operation of the site to give it broader business model
- Open the site up for equestrian-related tourism so that tourists could ride horses on the Track's grounds (like the training track are on the west side of Thompson Rd) and nearby trails
Having met with Fort Erie's Wayne Redekop (Mayor) and Richard Brady (Director of Community and Development Services) on December 8 of 2015, I have been asked to follow up on the Fort Erie Equestrian Trail Master Plan to investigate whether that plan is still viable.
As it has been many years since the Fort Erie Equestrian Trail Master Plan was discussed in detail, funding by and participation of the stakeholders may have been factors in its lapse. One of things I will be doing is contacting the Plan's original stakeholders.