Saturday, February 03, 2007

2010 WEC: Fletcher seeks Horse Park funds

$38.3 million urged for games upgrades
By Gregory A. Hall

The Courier-Journal
Gov. Ernie Fletcher announced yesterday that he will ask the legislature to approve $38.3 million in construction projects at the Kentucky Horse Park, which will play host to an Olympic-style world equestrian championship in 2010.
Some of the proposals are needed specifically for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington in three years, but others would help the park attract other competitions and events beyond the games, said John Nicholson, the park's executive director.
This will make our horse park unquestionably the finest equestrian facility in the world," Fletcher said in Lexington.
The governor's biggest request is $24 million for an outdoor arena with permanent seating and other facilities for 10,000 people. It also would have space for temporary seating to accommodate 20,000 more.
The governor also wants $4 million to add 21,000 square feet of exhibition space to a previously approved indoor arena. The additional money for the arena, for which ground is yet to be broken, also would improve indoor sound.
Those stadium and arena improvements would be paid for through bonding, Fletcher spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said.
Fletcher also is seeking $10.3 million in state road funds for widening and other road improvements in the park.
The games will take place between Sept. 25 and Oct. 10, 2010, and total attendance is expected to reach 500,000. More than 800 people and more than 900 horses -- representing more than 60 countries -- will compete in the world championships for eight equestrian sports.
State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he sees the need for the projects but did not commit to supporting them during the current legislative session, when a three-fifths majority would be required in both houses to approve an appropriation.
"The governor makes an excellent case on the need for these improvements," Thayer said, because they are time sensitive. But he said Fletcher "has a challenging sales job ahead of him on this."
One question is whether the projects could wait to be approved in next year's 60-day General Assembly session -- when budget issues are scheduled to be addressed -- in time for the games, Thayer said.
"The dilemma we face is that we are expected to run test events in 2009, and the test events are generally to be conducted in conditions replicating the 2010 games," Nicholson said. "So, it is desirable to have the funding for these projects secured as soon as possible so that we can get the facilities constructed in time."
Last night, Fletcher said the projects are of the magnitude that a governor would call a special session of the legislature, and addressing the projects during this session would be cheaper.
Another complicating factor could be the timing of the request during a gubernatorial campaign. Fletcher, pursuing re-election, is one of three Republicans seeking his party's nomination, while seven Democrats are vying for the job.
One of the Democrats is House Speaker Jody Richards of Bowling Green. Richards could not be reached for comment last night through a spokeswoman.
Fletcher said he hopes that all gubernatorial candidates support the improvements, and that they could share in the credit.
Some of the requests are the result of people planning the Kentucky games -- including Fletcher -- having attended last year's quadrennial event in Aachen, Germany.
Organizers of the Lexington games previously had planned for a temporary, outdoor stadium seating about 20,000 people, Nicholson said.
But from Aachen, Nicholson said it became clear that Kentucky needed to do more than what it had originally promised while bidding for the games in 2005.
"It really pointed out that the bar had been raised and that a proper outdoor stadium is now somewhat of an essential requirement" for venues that stage the World Equestrian Games, Nicholson said.
Fletcher previously said he thought new appropriations beyond what the legislature already approved wouldn't be needed and that any additional improvements could be paid for with the existing budget.
Last night, Fletcher said that a subsequent analysis of the Aachen games by event planners changed that view.
"This was something above what we imagined," he said.
Fletcher said he didn't want to invite a half million people to the Horse Park and not make a positive impression.
The legislature approved $36.5 million in bonds last year for a new indoor arena at the park. Fletcher is seeking $4 million to add 21,000 square feet of exhibition space.
Most equestrian events have trade shows associated with them, Nicholson said, and building the space when the arena is constructed would be cheaper than adding it.
The governor also is seeking $10.3 million for improvements to roads that were part of the Walnut Hall standardbred farm that preceded the park almost 30 years ago.

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