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Horse racetrack and casino in Balzac moving forward

By: Kristen Spruit

  |  Posted: Thursday, Dec 19, 2013 10:28 am

The rendering shows the plans for a horse racetrack and casino slated for Balzac, east of the CrossIron Mills shopping centre.
The rendering shows the plans for a horse racetrack and casino slated for Balzac, east of the CrossIron Mills shopping centre.
Rocky View County Rendering/For Rocky View Publishing

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A $24-million dollar project slated for Balzac that’s been touch-and-go for more than a decade is finally making its way out of the gate.

The Century Downs Racetrack and Casino is expected to be completed by late next year, as was announced by project officials at a news conference at the Century Casino in Calgary on Dec. 3.

“It’s pretty exciting to see the project go from near dead-in-the-water to where there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Paul Ryneveld, who works with special projects for Century Casinos.

“It’s an aggressive goal (to be open by this time next year), but it’s realistic,” he said, adding the project will be dependent on weather and Rocky View County (RVC) approvals.

The project is a joint venture between Century Casinos and the United Horsemen of Alberta (UHA), and will be located on about 57 acres of land east of the CrossIron Mills shopping centre.

The current plan is for the facility to consist of a 5.5 furlong (1.1 kilometres) racetrack with seating for 900 spectators. Standard-bred horses will be first out of gate, with thoroughbreds and quarter-horses to follow in 2016.

A 30,000-square-foot Racing Entertainment Centre (REC) will feature a gaming floor - where races will air - with 550 gaming machines, a restaurant seating 150 people, a bar and lounge, and a 100-seat off-track betting area.

The total footprint of the project has decreased from 195 acres when the first Master Site Development Plan (MSDP) was proposed and the project received RVC land approvals in 2006.

Ryneveld said the project was first conceived by the UHA in 2002, but the dream met a road block when trying to secure water and wastewater for the facility, and later, went bankrupt when the recession hit.

“That really delayed things,” he said.

Century Casinos got on board with the project a year-and-a-half ago and secured the financing, Ryneveld said.

“All those issues have been worked through and it’s really a clean slate now.”

The new MSDP and development permit is slated to go before RVC council in early 2014 for approval, said RVC Municipal Planner Ben Mercer.

“The goal of this development is to build a world-class REC that will revitalize and bring a new image to the racing and entertainment industry in Alberta,” states the MSDP.

The Century Downs Racetrack will be the only horse racetrack in the Calgary area since racing at Stampede Park closed in 2008, and the first Class A racetrack built in the Province in the last 70 years.

“The area where the facility will be located is rapidly growing and becoming quite the destination for commerce, and this allows for another entertainment venue,” said Ryneveld.

He said with the CrossIron Mills mall in the area and the New Horizon Mall expected to be open by 2016, he thinks each venue will contribute to the other’s success by drawing in visitors that will shop, eat, entertain and stay in the area.

“Not only that, you’re going to have the economic spin-off of having 100’s of drivers, jockeys, trainers and grooms come to the area. There’s going to be a multiplier effect with employment because you will also need the veterinarians and horse-shoers and so on,” said Ryneveld, adding the facility is expected to employ about 140 full-time staff.

RVC Communications Manager Grant Kaiser said the County estimates the facility to generate between $257,000 and $420,000 in annual tax revenue for RVC, but added “taxes can only be accurately set once the facility is built and properly assessed.”

Kaiser said there will be additional economic benefits to area businesses, such as racetrack patrons stopping for gas and visiting the local mall.

For Raymonde Boisvert, owner of the Rockin Horse Café, located on the west side of Highway 2 in Balzac, the project is great news.

“It’s good for my business because there’ll be more traffic and it’s always good to upgrade your revenue,” she said, adding she doesn’t see the restaurant that is to be located in the REC as competition for her business.

“If it’s anything like what came with CrossIron Mills mall, it’s not going to compare to what I have because I make all homemade and specialty food. There’s nothing like my diner around.”

Boisvert said she thinks the Century Downs Racetrack and Casino is planned for an ideal location that’s consistent with what is being developed around it.


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