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No Lease Deal In Fredericton

Published: October 11, 2016 10:47 am ET

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Late Monday, officials with Horse Racing New Brunswick (HRNB) confirmed that the group was unable to reach a lease deal with Fredericton Exhibition Limited (FEL), placing the future of harness racing at Canada's oldest racetrack in serious jeopardy.

"Discussions broke down when FEL issued a non-negotiable lease document with two leasehold options," the statement noted. "The first option effectively had a 400% increase in rent and the second was more than 200% increase with HRNB being responsible for the landlord components of building maintenance and upkeep."

Mike Vokey, executive director of FEL, told the Fredericton Daily Gleaner that the lease agreement was drafted by FEL board members to secure live harness at Fredericton for the next three years.

"The exhibition board really had to step back and take a different track and put aside everything else that was happening, the issues we’ve had with them in the past as the tenant and a lawsuit and everything, and try and find something...that was reasonable and would still be a good deal for the Exhibition and still be good business for Horse Racing New Brunswick."

According to The Daily Gleaner, Vokey said the lease proposed what was considered "a fair market rental rate" for Winner's Lounge, did not charge a fee for the racetrack, grandstands or barn area and "was reasonable according to the HRNB budget" that was provided to FEL.

HRNB said they countered what they classified as a "non-negotiable lease" document with what the organization could actually afford, which is the current amount it is paying -- property taxes and payment into a Capital Fund which FEL decides to use on capital improvements.

Without this lease deal, HRNB will be forced to cease its simulcast and VLT business at Winner's Lounge on December 31, 2016.

"HRNB has great concern for the well-being of its Winner's Staff and its horsepeople. As many as 20 jobs will be lost through the closing of Winner's," the HRNB statement reads. "Much uncertainty remains as to what will happen to the backstretch. Mike Vokey has been quoted as saying FEL wants to see horse racing and horses on the backstretch and by contrast apparently there are plans to develop the backstretch, barns and racetrack.

"HRNB is hopeful that the Fredericton Chapter of the New Brunswick Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association and the entire NBSBOA executive will be able to come to some resolution about track usage and stalls for 2017 as every horse and horse owner matters."

Kathy McLean, president of HRNB stated that "HRNB fought hard until the bitter end to try and find a reasonable solution that was mutually beneficial," adding the the organizations "has a bottom line that it must focus on in order to stay in business, and overpaying 200, or 400% jeopardizes our organization and the future of racing in New Brunswick, whatever that may be now that FEL has effectively chopped off one of the pillars of New Brunswick."

Standardbred Canada's President & CEO Dan Gall was was in New Brunswick last month to facilitate discussions between the two sides. Gall feels "the recent developments are unfortunate for the New Brunswick horse racing industry and Fredericton community and if at all possible both sides should continue to negotiate an agreement," but also acknowledges that time is running out on both sides, stating "Standardbred Canada wishes both parties well and will be available should both sides wish to continue to talk."

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