A plea for help saving Marquis Downs from permanent closure received little traction at a Saskatoon committee meeting Monday.
Several members of the local thoroughbred horse racing community recalled their first jobs mucking out stables, family ties to the industry and the economic impact the sport has had in Saskatoon.
In March, Prairieland Park announced a plan to end thoroughbred racing in favour of bringing a Canadian Premier League (CPL) soccer team to the property. Living Sky Sports and Entertainment has been awarded expansion rights in Saskatoon, contingent on a soccer-specific stadium being built.
On Monday, jockey Nicole Hein told city councillors that she believed such changes to Marquis Downs would go against Prairieland Park’s lease with the City of Saskatoon.
“The grandstand cannot be repurposed for soccer, nor can the barns be demolished in part or in whole without it being in violation of the lease,” Hein said.
She said allowing Prairieland to repurpose buildings means “the city is not protecting the interest of the people that these structures are intended to protect.”
Senior solicitor Jodi Manastyrski said she had “no information” supporting claims that Prairieland has gone against the terms of its lease with the city.
Prairieland Park is a non-profit corporation that is not owned by the city. The organization has a 50-year lease at a rate of $100 per year through the end of April 2045.
Councillors listened to the presenters, but took no further action.
While the city has no say in the business operations at Prairieland Park, new construction at the property requires the city’s consent, Manastyrski said.
“The lease does contain a provision that does not allow for the city to withhold consent unreasonably,” she said.
Hein also requested councillors consider separating Marquis Downs from Prairieland Park to allow a different non-profit to run the horse track.
Such a move has no legal or logical justification, according to Prairieland Park CEO Mark Regier.
In an interview, Regier compared severing the properties to Manitoba separating from Canada, stating such a move would be “dysfunctional” and “a bit of pipe dream.”
Prairieland Park has plans to present a soccer facility master plan to city council this summer, followed by a ground-breaking next spring and a CPL season beginning in 2023.
“We don’t want to miss this opportunity,” Regier said.