Alberta Downs must pay for paving project

Alberta Downs will not be allowed to change its financial commitment for a $420,000 road paving project.

Alberta Downs will not be allowed to change its financial commitment for a $420,000 road paving project.

Lacombe County council rejected a request on Thursday from horse racing track owner Bob Allen to put a $300,000 deposit for future intersection work he gave the municipality years ago towards a more recent $420,000 road paving bill.

“I don’t understand it,” said Allen on Friday. “It’s my money they’ve got and I need it now.

“And now when I need it they won’t give it back to me.”

It’s questionable whether the intersection improvements will even be needed based on the experiences of the last few seasons of the harness racing venue, he added.

The cash was put aside as part of the 2008 development agreement that was signed before the track opened at Hwy 12 and Hwy 2.

The money was required to provide for future intersection upgrades at the entrance road to the track at Hwy 12.

In the same agreement, Allen agreed to pave the road leading to his track at a cost then estimated at $1.6 million.

Payment was not to be required until slot machines were acquired, which was expected to dramatically boost traffic to the track.

It was expected the intersection would need to be improved at the same time.

However, a provincial moratorium on new slot machines has meant the race track has had to do without the money-making machines since it opened in 2009.

Lacombe County opted to pave the road anyway after determining that even without the added gambling traffic, the road saw enough vehicles that an upgrade was warranted.

A federal grant was tapped to undertake the work, which reduced Allen’s bill to $420,000. He agree to pay that out at $50,000 annually over nine years.

But hard times have fallen on the racing industry in general and Allen asked that the earlier intersection cash be put towards the paving bill.

In a report to council, county commissioner Terry Hager explains why using the $300,000 was not a good idea.

The money will be needed later when the intersection is upgraded. If the cash is used now, Lacombe County ratepayers would be on the hook when it’s time to add signals and other changes.

“This would be contrary to the original intent of the development agreement and place an unfair burden on Lacombe County ratepayers.”

Coun. Rod McDermand agreed. He noted that the county already paid a large portion of the paving bill and Allen has agreed to pay his share.

“There was a lot of (financial) forgiveness in that.”

Allen said he has no issue paying for paving, which benefits his track. But Horse Racing Alberta is facing a cash crunch.

“It’s been in a downturn pretty bad and they can’t afford to give me any more money.”

Allen said despite the financial challenges, there is no way he is closing the facility, which boasts the longest track in Western Canada and northwestern United States and employs 40 people.

Another 800 horses, trainers, grooms and other staff are connected to the race track, which he estimates pumps $4 million into the local economy yearly.

There is light on the horizon for the industry. A new race track is supposed to open in Calgary next spring with a 450-slot machine casino that will feed much-needed cash into the industry.

In the meantime, Allen, who said he wasn’t aware the county planned to deal with his request on Thursday, plans to speak to the county to find out why they turned his request down and explore other options.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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