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Council Vote On Equestrian Center A 'Mystery' To Proponent


May 03, 2009

A bewildered Patricia Kelly last Wednesday was trying to figure what to do next, now that the Hartford City Council has effectively killed a plan to build an equestrian center on land in Keney Park.

"It's like a mystery to me," Kelly said of the council's 8-1 vote against giving Kelly and the Ebony Horsewomen "tentative developer" status for land in Keney Park. That status would have allowed Kelly and her group to further develop the idea, pursue funding and get a more concrete plan in place. As proposed, the equestrian center would have been built on 240 acres of the 693-acre park. It would have included a 6,000-seat indoor arena, a polo field, a rodeo arena, an 1,800-stall barn, riding trails in the park, and more.

The thinking was that Hartford was a smart location for an equestrian center, with its proximity to hotels, restaurants and highways. And that such a center was a no-brainer for Connecticut, a state that has the highest number of horses per capita in the U.S.

Kelly has been working on some iteration of this plan since 1987, she said. And pretty much since Day 1, the location has been Keney Park. "The park was the perfect place," Kelly said. "It was always in Keney Park."

Until Monday night. Despite an opinion from the city's attorneys that said such a use would be allowed in Keney Park, the council voted against the idea, while offering encouraging words.

"This is what I'd love to see in Hartford," said Councilman Matt Ritter. "Just not in a public park."

That was the opinion of the park's neighbors, too, who resisted the idea for a number of reasons, prime among them worries about traffic and congestion, and concerns about turning part of the park over to a private user.

"When did that happen?" Kelly wondered Wednesday. Everyone "was on board until January," she said. "I'm not sure what happened" to sway public opinion, Kelly said.

Now Kelly is left wondering what to do next. "I can't get my mind around the fact that Keney Park is not the best place" for the equestrian center, she said. She also doesn't understand why the council would turn away an idea that would have brought jobs, visitors and hope to a city facing an $8 million budget deficit and 13 percent tax increases for homeowners, with even larger increases for small business owners. Of the council, she said, "If I sat where they sat, I would want to look at everything that could bring added revenue to the city."

No matter how disappointed Kelly is, though, she hasn't lost sight of the reason the Ebony Horsewomen exist and the good the organization does every day, equestrian center or no equestrian center.

"Let's be clear," she said. "Twenty-five years ago we started with the notion that horses help underserved children. That's our mission. That mission does not change."

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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