This is the issue. Newberry has the opportunity to acquire Canterbury in a deal with the County similar to the deal we did with Nations Park. In other words, the complex would be purchased with bed tax dollars, money that comes in from people who visit Alachua County and stay in our hotels.
From the County’s perspective, they would get a venue to run the County fair that is, for the most part, already built and ready to begin operating immediately with very little additional capital investment. Canterbury already has a 2,000 sq ft arena and multiple barns that would serve the fair’s needs perfectly. Right now, the fair has been experiencing financial difficulty. The location for the County fair is right next to the airport. It’s located in a section of Gainesville that has been identified for business growth, and recreation doesn’t fit that model very well. The County could also help keep the equestrian center open and continuing to bring revenue into the County. So, the County could, in a very real sense, not only save money but make money with this project.
But, the advantages don’t end there. The proposal is to acquire Canterbury and the wooded land, about 45 acres, just to the west of the actual Equestrian Center. In this project, we are looking to also bring in a multi-sport complex that could include a velodrome, a competitive bicycle arena. Now, it’s early in this process, and it may end up being some other type of complex, so don’t hold me to a velodrome. However, the University of Florida has shown some interest in a Velodrome, and I think we can all agree that that would be a fantastic partner to bring into Newberry. This multi-sport complex would be built on the land to the west of Canterbury, so Canterbury would stay virtually the same. This is a very important point because Canterbury needs all the open fields around it to operate their competitions, and as long as part of the argument is that we are doing this to keep Canterbury an active revenue generator, we have to remember their needs. But, whatever type of sports complex Newberry ends up bringing in, the impact of the potential economic development, both on Newberry and on the County, is immense, easily as transformative as Nations Park is projected to be and Easton Archery has proven to be.
Virtually every economic development study I’ve read has upheld the strategy of creating “corridors.” A corridor is basically a fancy way of saying that Cities and Counties should be organized into sections for business, recreation, medicine, etc. . .. This makes perfect sense for multiple reasons; however, it is often difficult to implement because it takes a long term vision, and too often, narrow and short term interests derail that vision. There are a lot of things to consider about this proposal, and we are a long way from this becoming a reality. However, I think that, when we look at this project with the good of the entire County in mind, it looks like it could be good for everyone involved!
The Newberry City Commission will be hosting a town hall meeting Monday night, September 19th, at 6 at Oak View Middle School to discuss this proposal. The goal will be for everyone to have a chance to express their thoughts, but if you aren’t able to make that meeting or if you’re there but don’t get a chance to speak, please, share your thoughts with me in the comment box below. I’ll make sure they get back to the rest of the commissioners. This is a County wide issue, but it will impact us most directly. So, let your voice be heard!