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Losses mount, so Prairieland Park to repurpose Marquis Downs site

Administration at Saskatoon’s Prairieland Park has disclosed it has endured ongoing losses at its...

Administration at Saskatoon’s Prairieland Park has disclosed it has endured ongoing losses at its Marquis Downs horse racing facility of over $500,000 annually during the five years prior to the pandemic.

With no place to relocate, this will effectively end professional horse racing in Saskatchewan.

There seem to be many mistruths circulating about whether Prairieland has the authority to discontinue the sport on the site.

You bet it can.

Part of the conversation that seems to be lost in all the discussion about Marquis Downs is how long Prairieland has already propped up the sport. There is nothing in its mandate to say the organization exists to merely host horse racing.

The list of uses as a corporation under the Non-Profits Act of Saskatchewan states Marquis Downs is active in trade shows, agricultural events, school programs, the Saskatoon Exhibition and the operation of Sports on Tap.

It would seem irresponsible of the board of directors to continue operating any of these activities at a loss.

Getting to the zone of the matter

Zoning at Prairieland Park is AG, defined as an Agricultural District, which might seem bizarre given the site now sits in a very urban setting.

The purpose of the zoning is to allow for “certain large-scale specialized land uses as well as certain rural oriented uses on the periphery of the city.”

The zoning bylaw is organized by district and outlines the permitted, prohibited and discretionary uses for each.

Horse tracks are one of 25 permitted uses listed on this site. The land could also potentially be used for a zoo, golf course, cemetery, airport, place of worship, or hospital.

What I’m trying to illustrate is that the AG zoning is not limited to what we’d typically consider to be only be agricultural uses.

Therefore, the City of Saskatoon has left the board of directors which governs Prairieland Park to its own devices on how it sees fit to generate income from the land under those guidelines.

Land lease a beneficial partnership

Typically, a land lease is a contractual agreement between a land owner (landlord) and tenant.

This land lease is not tailored with a big payday in mind to the landlord, however; it’s designed as a way to utilize existing municipal land to spur local economy. The municipality leases the land to a nonprofit and in exchange, that nonprofit brings forth opportunity for commerce.

This partnership model is the foundation of virtually all urban exhibition-type enterprises across Canada.

Saskatoon’s first exhibition fair was held in 1886 as a means to attract settlers and create economic viability.

Exhibition sites have evolved since their inception as well as the ancillary events they host. It’s not reasonable to think that Prairieland would be operating the same attractions as that first fair.

Betting on the right horse?

In 2017, the horse racing industry celebrated its 250th anniversary of the first Canadian horse racing event organized on July 17, 1767, in Quebec City.

Marquis Downs’ current facilities were developed in 1969, but racing in many forms existed well before then.

It will soon be part of the memory bank with other tracks that have ceased in Regina (2003), Calgary (2008) and Edmonton (2018). (* See note below)

Prairieland Park has publicly announced it will be repurposing the Marquis Downs portion of the site for soccer. I don’t know much about the Canadian Premier Soccer League, but just about every kid I know under the age of 10 has played on a soccer team at some point.

I hope this will be received with the same enthusiasm as the Rush lacrosse franchise and start a new history of sport for our city.

* Note: New horse racing tracks have emerged in both Edmonton and Calgary since the closure of the facilities on municipally-supported exhibition sites. Both are under the private management of Century Casinos, Inc. 

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