Strong support for equestrian center plan on Sleepy Hole

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

Fifteen-year-old Chelsey Salmon loves to show her horse, Marnin.

But the logistics of participating in the regional horseshow circuit can be costly and demanding, with most shows requiring several hours of driving and oftentimes an overnight stay.

That could change one day if the Suffolk City Council fully supports the city’s proposed $46.2 million Driver Sports Complex.

Email newsletter signup

A highlight of the proposed 360-acre complex on Sleepy Hole Road is a $15.8 million equestrian center featuring two outdoor bridle rings and four stables.

&uot;It would be great to have a facility here at home,&uot; said Robin Salmon, Chelsey’s mother. &uot;Wonderful.&uot;

Her comments were reiterated by more than three dozen horse enthusiasts who reviewed the proposed plan during a public meeting at Lakeland High School Wednesday.

Input gathered from three public meetings last

this week will be used to shape a final proposal that will be shared with the Suffolk City Council in June, said Lakita Frazier, the city’s director of parks and recreation.

A top-notch equestrian facility would be a huge shot in the arm for both economic development and tourism, said Joel Stewart of Chuckatuck.

&uot;To generate growth, we need to take a leap forward,&uot; he said. &uot;It would be a big draw for equestrians.&uot;

Right now, the nearest show facilities are in Lexington, Raleigh and Williamston, N.C., all several hours away.

A facility in Suffolk would draw users from Virginia and beyond, said Malissa Lunning, owner of Lunmore Ponies in Whaleyville.

&uot;People would come from all over to attend shows-Maryland, North Caro-lina, the Eastern Shore, Delaware,&uot; Lunning said. &uot;Right now, I have to travel for hours to go to shows.

&uot;I’d love not to have to travel four or five hours and to be able to spend my money right here in Suffolk.&uot;

That could prove lucrative for Suffolk businesses, added Claudia Lee.

&uot;Horse people drop a lot of money into the economy,&uot; she said.

Last year, the horse industry pumped more than $1 billion in the state’s economy, said Lynette Brugeman, the city’s tourism director.

Former Suffolk City Councilman Rufus Powell said he believes the city need to slow down with the project.

&uot;I think it’s a good plan but I think it’s the wrong time to get started on it,&uot; said Powell. &uot;What is the southwestern part of the city getting for their tax dollars? Nothing.

&uot;I’m asking the city to put the project off for five or 10 years. I’m opposed to it at this time.&uot;