A world-class horse facility with the prospect of bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into Sonoma County each year is perhaps closer to becoming a reality.
In August, the California Equestrian Park & Event Center (CEPEC, cepec.us) submitted a proposal to the state to develop land around the Sonoma Development Center in Eldridge.
The proposal is for about 750 of the facility’s 950 acres and would aim to eliminate the maintenance costs incurred by the state for land surrounding the SDC campus, provide the state with revenue from the property, and create many benefits for local and regional communities.
The campus, which houses the elderly and disabled, is targeted for closure under a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown, which could happen by the end of 2018.
The property is zoned for nonprofit or governmental use only and, if accepted, the state could donate the land, lease it or CEPEC would buy it, said Wanda Smith, the nonprofit’s executive director.
CEPEC is a significant, multidimensional project. Plans call for an Olympic-quality complex for competitive activities, recreational and educational opportunities, and entertainment including polo, cutting and barrel racing. A large equine infrastructure would be capable of handling 27,000 horses and 140 trainers, with 125 stables and veterinary facilities.
“It’s like a cultural and educational mosaic,” Smith said. “It’s a hybrid. Not really a park, and not private. Privately owned, but for the public. People from all over the world have looked at this and said it’s unique.”
In total, the center will cost about $200 million to build and is expected to create more than 1,200 jobs during construction and at least 70 full-time and 250 part-time jobs when up and running.
The world-class facility would have the potential to generate annual county tourism revenue of an estimated $250 million when fully operational, Smith said. This revenue would be derived from visitor spending on lodging, restaurants, transportation, retail goods, entertainment and recreation. An event as large as the World Equestrian Games would bring another $300 million.
“There’s nothing like it on the West Coast. It would be the biggest such facility west of Kentucky,” she said.
The horse industry is already big business here. In 2014, the Sonoma County Horse Council sponsored a study to determine the economic impact of equestrian activities in Sonoma County.
According to the report, conducted by the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University in 2013, the commercial interactions of Sonoma County’s horse owners, riders, and businesses generated in excess of $613 million in business revenues, compared to grapes, at $583 million (nearly $593 million in 2014). In addition it supports more than 7,700 jobs and contributes almost $12 million in local tax revenue annually from approximately $464 million in annual spending by horse owners and riders.
As of 2013, there were estimated to be more than 26,000 horses in the county and about 35 horse clubs that represent a wide variety of equine activities including trail riding, dressage and those catering to specific breeds.
“There is a wide variety of clubs, some more loosely formed than others, and some people belong to more than just one,” said Elizabeth Palmer, president of the Sonoma County Horse Association.
The report also included a survey of horse owners, who reported that the county lacks adequate facilities for larger shows.