O’port future may include equine center

Boro explores idea of training facility on fort land


Oceanport officials are considering a thoroughbred horse training facility as part of plans for the reuse of Fort Monmouth acreage.

Mayor Michael Mahon introduced the subject of a training facility at the Feb. 7 Borough Council meeting during which Councilman Gerald “Jay” Briscione was designated as the council liaison to Monmouth Park racetrack.

According to Briscione, Dennis Drazin, of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, had approached him to ask if there was land in the borough to house a training facility.

Briscione cited concerns that the association was losing many horses to out-of-state racetracks and/or facilities as the reason a center might be needed and should be included in the borough’s plans for Oceanport’s Fort Monmouth plans.

“It wasn’t ever part of the plan. Something like this had never been brought up,” Briscione said. “The need for this has come about because of the increased competition from other states. There is no place for New Jersey horsemen to go after Monmouth Park closes for the season. So they talked to the state about opening a training facility.”

Oceanport would be a logical site for such a facility because it is equidistant to many of the racetracks that the trainers would send horses to race at aside from Monmouth Park, Briscione said.

“[The proposed facility] would probably be similar to something you’d see along Route 537 in Colts Neck,” Briscione said. “It would probably be a barn or a number of barns with a training track and a lot of paddocks for the horses to be turned out. [Drazin] asked if we had the land for that.”

Briscione said that such a facility might be a possible use for some of the land the borough is looking to acquire following the closure of Fort Monmouth, which is slated to close by 2011. Oceanport stands to receive approximately 419 acres, according to Briscione. The training facility would require approximately 80 acres.

There is no room for such a facility anywhere else in the borough, said Briscione, who thought it unlikely that any land could be used at Wolf Hill Park, which was the site of a similar facility years ago.

“It serves our purposes because it is mostly devoted to open space. So that’s why it’s something that was of interest,” Briscione said. “But can it happen? That remains to be seen.”

The facility would increase open space as well as reduce large-scale housing development in the borough.

It would also be a tax-paying entity that would help the local economy, according to Briscione.

“It would maintain jobs for a longer period,” Briscione said. “Right now, horses are there from mid-April to mid- November. This would put them there from January to December, and [the thoroughbred industry] would be part of the local economy for a longer period of time.”

Both Mahon and Councilman Joseph Irace are opposed to the previously submitted redevelopment plan that called for approximately 1,800 more homes in the borough.

Their campaign platform called for a redevelopment plan that suited the needs and character of the community and opposed the previously discussed plan calling for between 1,640 and 1,960 homes.

“This is a win-win for the borough of Oceanport,” Irace said. “This will drastically reduce the housing component, while maintaining farmland, open space and helping our major ratable, Monmouth Park, remain a viable institution for horse racing.”

According to the borough tax collector, the racetrack pays an estimated $1.6 million in taxes to the borough. Additionally, the Breeders’ Cup brought in about $60 million in revenue when it was held at Monmouth Park for the first time last year.

“We have been very fortunate that Monmouth Park racetrack is a wonderful place for horse racing,” Mahon said last year.

He stressed that Monmouth Park is very valuable to the local economy.

The next step for the council is to contact the N.J. Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and express an interest in exploring how this concept can be advanced, Briscione said.

Meanwhile, Mahon will raise the issue to the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Planning Authority that the borough may want to look into adding such a training facility to its plans.

Irace was supportive of the facility, calling the equine training center a better option than the condominiums or housing developments that might occupy the land.

“Hopefully we get the support from the state and county to make this idea become a reality,” Irace said. “We have been working hard in looking outside the box and trying to reduce any large-scale housing in Oceanport should the fort close.”

Yet Briscione said that an issue blocking the project might be that the value of the land in question is too great to support such a facility.

“This is probably a long shot because the expectations that the government has of the value of the land would make it prohibitive,” Briscione said. “We would want it, but from an economic perspective, is that what the government would want there?”

It remains to be seen if the idea will spark the interest of the Governor’s Office and from state officials. Briscione said that if they want it to happen, it will.T

he training facility might be included in the borough’s fort redevelopment plans, depending on what the planners think of it, Briscione said.

“Conceptual is the word,” Briscione said. “It’s something that’s of interest because of what it does. It helps the racing industry, which we’re a part of.”