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Equestrian Complex Proposed For Hartford's Keney Park

JEFFREY B. COHEN

January 17, 2009

The backers of a plan to take 200 acres of Hartford's Keney Park and build a $65 million, world-class equestrian and exhibition center want "tentative" development rights to the property from the city.

The plan, which has been in the works for years, comes with some controversy. The nonprofit Ebony Horsewomen, who want 18 months to find investors for the center, say the project will bring economic, educational and recreational benefits to the city. Mayor Eddie A. Perez supports the plan because of support "from all parts of the community," his spokeswoman said.

But others aren't convinced. Parks advocates say the city shouldn't be in the business of carving up its open space for development. Residents who want to see the park in their backyards, not parked cars, are concerned that the big-time equestrian center would benefit visitors but not the city and residents.

"It's primarily for those coming in with their trailers and horses," said Tower Avenue resident Lincoln Davis, who has lived in the neighborhood for over 50 years.

Davis said he doesn't like the idea of losing open space.

"If it fails," he said, "this isn't something you can put back in a year or two."

According to a study presented to the city last summer, the center would lease the land from the city and would have a 37,500-square-foot main building with a museum, gift shop, restaurant and meeting space. The center also would include stables; 1,500 parking spaces; a polo field; rodeo, show, warm-up and grand prix jumping arenas; a saddle horse ring; and, of course, a manure holding shed.

Patricia Kelly, head of the Ebony Horsewomen, wants the city to give her organization the "tentative developer" status so it can have time to find investors. She says the project would bring money to the city via jobs and tourism.

City council Democratic Majority Leader rJo Winch likes the plan.

"The project is new, it's different, it's going to generate new money coming into the city of Hartford," Winch said. "What's the park used for now? Drugs, debris, garbage. So, to me, when I look at what people are doing with the park now vs. what people will be doing with the park then, it's a no-brainer."

But city Councilman Luis Cotto, who chairs the council's parks committee, is squarely against the proposal and questions whether the public park can even be used for the private venture. Cotto said he sees no economic benefit to the city, fears the loss of city park land and questions the project's viability.

So does Mary Rickel Pelletier, a member of the city's parks commission, which has in the past opposed the plan. This plan has yet to come before the commission.

"That's a land grab," Pelletier said. "If this land can be given away for development rights, every park in the city is up for grabs. Every park."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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