02/18/2016 11:24AM

This year's meet might be the last for Northlands Park


When Tim Reid, chief executive at Northlands Park, announced plans for the future of the track on Wednesday, he said 2016 likely will be the last year of horse racing there.

“It is with mixed emotions that we talk about our partnership with horse racing,” said Reid. “[This year] will be our last year in the horse-racing business.”

Northlands is a 52-acre multiuse facility in Edmonton, Alberta. When the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League, who played their home games on the site at Rexall Place, announced that they were moving to a downtown arena, Northlands decided to renovate the site. The plan, “Vision 2020,” was unveiled Wednesday.

As part of the plan, the racetrack and casino will be converted into an urban festival site. It seems like a longshot, but Reid did leave open the possibility of racing continuing at Northlands.

“None of these images are final,” said Reid. “They are just images, thoughts, and conversation starters. We have been clear with the horse-racing industry that we need to progress beyond horse racing to activate the site. That being said, if the discussions between the province and Horse Racing Alberta came back and the business model changed dramatically, we would be very grateful we had pictures and not final decisions.”

Horse Racing Alberta regulates horse racing in Alberta. It is a nonprofit corporation formed by the provincial government in 1996. The current contract regarding the sharing of slot-machine revenue among industry stakeholders in Alberta expires at the end of March. The premier of the province, Rachel Notley, talked about cutting the slots subsidy to horse racing during her successful campaign last year.

Shirley McClellan, CEO at Horse Racing Alberta, said there is a possibility of a new track in Edmonton.

“Horse Racing Alberta is aware of interest in building a new track in the Edmonton area and will explore, with our industry partners, options of racing in the Edmonton area,” McClellan said.

The 2016 meet at Northlands begins May 11 and will conclude Aug. 27. The purses and stakes schedule won’t be announced until the deal with the government is in place.

No Thoroughbred dates have been set at Century Downs and Casino. A 5 1/2-furlong track near Calgary, Century Downs opened last year with Standardbred racing. Its website says there will be Thoroughbred racing there starting in September and running into November. The current Standardbred meet ends Aug. 21.