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Fredericton bylaw change would remove horse racing as permitted activity at N.B. Ex site | CBC News

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The City of Fredericton is taking steps to prevent future horse racing events from happening at the New Brunswick Exhibition grounds, potentially killing any hope by that organization to see  harness racing events this year.

City staff are proposing changes to Fredericton’s zoning bylaw that would no longer permit the grounds on Smythe Street be used as a racetrack and would remove the term “horse racing” from the list of activities included in the definition of “public exhibition grounds.”

The proposed amendments went before councillors on Monday night and were given preliminary approval. A final vote on the changes will be held Jan. 22.

The proposed amendments come just weeks after Jeff McCarthy, executive director of the N.B. Ex, said he was hoping to see harness racing events return to the grounds this year, even as his organization and the city are set to execute a plan to get rid of the racetrack to make way for apartment buildings and potentially a new school.

CBC News tried for an interview with Fredericton planning director Ken Forrest after Monday’s meeting but he wouldn’t speak.

City spokesperson Jennifer Read said in an email that the proposed amendments are intended to bring consistency between the N.B. Ex secondary municipal plan and the zoning bylaw. 

CBC News also contacted N.B. Ex board president Rob Kitchen ahead of the meeting, but he declined an interview, saying he was unaware of the proposed bylaw amendments.

Redevelopment deal

While the City of Fredericton owns the 31-acre property, the N.B. Ex holds a long-term lease on it, expiring in 2032, and oversees operations at the site. 

The property includes an indoor exhibit centre and coliseum, horse stables, the track and a parking lot with space for 1,000 vehicles.

The city has for years wanted to see new uses for the grounds, and in spring 2019, it came to an agreement with the New Brunswick Exhibition, under former executive director Mike Vokey, to redevelop the property.

Plan A in the city’s agreed development plan is pictured on the right, next to a Google Maps image of the New Brunswick Provincial Exhibition grounds. (Google Maps/City of Fredericton)

Three design options were put forward in a secondary municipal plan adopted in 2022, all of which would allow the exhibition centre to remain on site, while getting rid of the racetrack to make room for residential buildings, mixed commercial-residential buildings, a park and possibly a school.

But rumblings emerged in fall 2022 among Horse Racing New Brunswick members, with some expressing hopes to “seize” the track by encouraging its members to register for membership with the N.B. Ex to tip the board in their favour.

Then last spring, Vokey revealed he’d been fired as executive director after being told the board wanted to take the organization in “a different direction.”

A man stands outside in a parking lot wearing a black polo shirt.
Mike Vokey said he was fired as executive director of the N.B. Ex, with the board of directors wanting to take the organization in a different direction. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Speaking to N.B. Ex members at its annual general meeting in November, McCarthy, who’s Vokey’s replacement, said he was hoping to see a return of harness racing events at the site’s racetrack in the new year.

“People need not be concerned that that in any way interferes in our discussions about responsible development of this property,” McCarthy said at the time.

In a later interview in November, McCarthy said the N.B. Ex remains committed to the redevelopment process, and doesn’t see an issue with making “the best use of the … racetrack” until the time comes to get rid of it.

Last May, the N.B. Ex allowed an official harness racing event to take place on the grounds.

Prior to that, an official harness racing event hadn’t been held at the track since the N.B. Ex decided against renewing the lease held by Fredericton Raceway in December 2016.

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