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Waxhaw weighs developing equine center

14 August 2013

Carolyn Steeves, The Enquirer Journal

Waxhaw is looking to become more than a one-horse town with the addition of an equine center.

“We wanted to come up with some marketing materials to give information to potential businesses,” Erin Kirkpatrick, mayor pro-tem of Waxhaw, said.

In order to do that, they assembled local business people and community leaders to discuss the top three assets of the town and what to market.

The equestrian community was named one of the top three, among with other things. Kirkpatrick said they started talking to people in the local equine community and things began to fall into place.

A group visited equine parks in Camden, S.C., and Aiken to learn about what the steps would be to build a large equine facility.

“The next step from that is we have established an equine advisory subcommittee,” Kirkpatrick said. The group will have its first meeting next week and consists of members of the equestrian community and others.

Local farms, including Carolina Country Acres, Providence Equestrian Center and Fox Farms are behind it, Kirkpatrick said. They also had Libby Johnson, from Polk County, come speak about equine economic development.

“(We have a) wealth of information,” Kirkpatrick said. “What we haven’t put together is a formal presentation to the board of commissioners.”

There are about 11,000 horses in Union County, Kirkpatrick said many of them are concentrated in the Waxhaw area.

In 2009, the N.C. General Assembly commissioned a study of the state’s equine industry. The study looked at all equine breeds, the three large “horsing sectors”–showing, racing and recreation–and other associated activities and found the equine industry contributes close to $2 billion to the state’s economy annually. In addition, there are about 20,000 jobs in the state tied to the industry.

The equine park in Camden, S.C. has brought about $4.5 million into the local economy, she said.

“It has a huge return on investment,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a light-use (facility) ... with all the variety of disciplines, there could be an event every single weekend.”

The town has acquired 34 acres on Waxhaw-Marvin Road. Kirkpatrick said it a pretty piece of property with an equine history.

The local residents said they did not want an athletic facility on the property because of the noise and the lights, though they are open to tennis courts.

The back of the property already has equine trails in place. Kirkpatrick would like to build a covered arena and at least three or four show rings on the property.

“I would love to see 100 to 200 stalls, if not more,” she added.

Their next visit is to Tryon, which Kirkpatrick understands is the most like Waxhaw of the locations they’ve visited. She said their visits have shown what kind of components they would like to build, though they do not necessarily plan to model the layout after another facility.

The land needs a site study to determine what would be most beneficial.

“My hopes would be to hire a high-end equine architect to actually do the site study and to the do the long-term planning,” Kirkpatrick said.

They would not be able to build everything at once, so they would have to prioritize what could bring the biggest return. They are also discussing if the center should be run by a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization.

“This is the direction a lot of people want to go in,” she said.

She meets with four other towns–Mineral Springs, Weddington, Marvin and Wesley Chapel–monthly to talk about the future of the towns and the importance of equine activities there.

“We realize that equine benefits us all and together, collectively, we offer a variety of housing for different employers ... looking to relocate,” Kirkpatrick said.

Another focus of the town is athletics. Kirkpatrick said the average age of a Waxhaw resident is 35. They are averaging at least 200 new residents a month, many families with children.

“We have been grossly underserved with athletic fields for some time,” Kirkpatrick said.

She said athletics and tournaments could bring a large economic impact and that the numbers are similar between equine activities and sport tournaments. The average family coming in for a weekend would spend $350 that weekend in the local community, she said.

More athletic fields and tournament space could also attract more hotels.

“Most importantly, it gives our children access to competitive athletics, hopefully scholarships ... and it supplements our schools,” Kirkpatrick said. She added that they cannot expect any company to want to locate to Waxhaw without good, quality schools.

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