11/15/2002 1:00AM

License extension just the first step


EDMONTON, Alberta - Horse Racing Alberta, the provincial regulatory body, offered Northlands Park a 10-year license extension that would run from Jan. 1, 2004, through Dec. 31, 2013.

Dr. Pat Brennan, HRA racetrack license committee chair, explained that the deal would solidify the long-term health of Thoroughbred racing in Alberta.

But the announcement has left as many questions as answers.

In order for the deal to be finalized a number of hurdles would have to be overcome by Northlands, not the least of which is coming up with $43 million to completely overhaul the track.

In a proposal submitted to the HRA earlier this year, Northlands suggested ripping out the current five-eighths-mile track and replacing it with a 6 1/2-furlong dirt surface, with a new five-eighths-mile Standardbred-only track on its inside.

Currently, Northlands does not have the land necessary to make the plan work and, as a not-for-profit entity, does not have immediate access to $43 million. The license extension will rely on Horse Racing Alberta funding the expansion by granting Northlands a larger share of the revenue generated by the track's slot machines.

No mention of forthcoming funding was made during the announcement, but Northlands Park president Eric Young and David Reid, chairman of HRA, both said they thought a deal could be worked out.

Assuming the funding issue can be resolved, the Northlands board of directors will still have to give the thumbs-up and the Edmonton City Council will also have to approve the expansion.

If all of the details are finalized, Northlands would close its doors on Sept. 1, 2003, and reopen in January 2005, which would force horsemen to race outside the province if no alternative is found.

Considering that Stampede Park in Calgary has been deemed inappropriate for the long term and was granted a one-year license for 2003 only, that track would not seem to be a viable option.

The HRA also denied the long-term license application of the Calgary Racing Entertainment Group, which had proposed the creation of a new racetrack.