Posted Sep 9, 2016 at 4:21
By Carlos E. Medina Correspondent
The Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park will soon kick off new construction and branding initiatives in moves to grow the park’s reach and reputation. Thanks to $5 million in state funding this year, the park will begin construction of seven new barn structures in late October or early November, according to reports during the park’s executive board meeting this week.
Five of the structures will be outfitted with a total of 160 stalls. The other two will remain open and serve as smaller pavilions until additional stalls are needed. With the other five barns built two years ago, the park will have 320 stalls, as well as a number of temporary stalls, said Shawn Doherty, the park’s executive director. The other construction projects on the slate include building a mezzanine in the existing covered arena, a new main entrance off of County Road 475A and connecting the park to the Marion County water and sewer system.
It was also announced that the park will have a booth at Equine Affaire in Massachusetts from Nov. 10-13. The event is one of the largest all-breed and all-discipline gatherings in the country and is part trade show, entertainment venue and shopping exposition. “They get people from all 50 states and a bunch from different countries. There’s a very large variety of horse people of all ages,” said Emily Holmes, a park event coordinator.
Tens of thousands of people attend the annual event in Massachusetts including well-known riders and horse trainers based in Marion County. The horse park booth will include a video of the events held at the park as well as a segment on other attractions in the county from the Marion County Tourist Development Council.
“It’s really a big deal. I’ve been there a number of times,” Don McDuffee, horse park board chairman, said of the show.
The park broke just in the black in July, which is traditionally the slowest time of the year. The horse park’s license plate continues to do well, bringing in more than $22,000 in July. The park is also actively seeking sponsorships for banners in the pavilion and for barns.
The board is also making good on donations made more than a decade ago for naming rights on horse stalls. Thirty-two people donated $5,000 each for new barns with the promise that commemorative plaques would be installed on barn doors. Unfortunately, the barns were never completed at that time. Doherty said the majority of those who donated have been contacted and the first batch of plaques have been ordered.