NEWBERRY – Faced with more questions than answers, in a four to one vote, Newberry city commissioners opted to continue pursuing the acquisition of Canterbury Equestrian Center.
Opposed to the measure, Commissioner Lois Forte said, “I don’t want to move forward with it.”
Forte said the City had borrowed money for another sport-related project, Nations Baseball Parks, fearing the Canterbury acquisition would require additional loans and put the City further in debt. “Newberry citizens are the ones who are going to pay it back” Forte said.
“For me, let’s stop right where we are.”
Commissioner Joe Hoffman countered by saying that the loan for the baseball park is being paid back with hotel tax money, striking down the notion that the city is in debt.
Hoffman also recalled citizen concerns voiced at a September town hall meeting about the City’s proposed purchase of Canterbury. He said that citizens will support the acquisition if they don’t have to pay it for it.
Regardless to what happens to Canterbury, Hoffman proposed that Newberry should still pursue building another sports arena in other parts of the city.
One issue that commissioners did agree on was citizen opposition to having a carnival-like atmosphere at the equestrian center. Commissioner Jordan Marlowe said it was clear that no one wants a carnival at the site.
City attorney S. Scott Walker said the commission should draft a set of criteria detailing what Newberry would like to do with the equestrian center and start negotiations with the county. One of the concerns is if the Alachua County fairgrounds, which is currently located in Gainesville, and Canterbury are regarded as a package deal, precluding negotiation if separated.
Commissioners were surprised to learn about a rumor circulating of a possible $ 4-million donation if the fairgrounds were to move to Newberry. None of the commissioners were aware of alleged donation.
Lawson commented that the price of the property was still vague, referring to the numbers discussed in September, which ranged between $4 million and $5 million.
Explaining that the owner’s asking price likely doesn’t match what the appraisal or value price would be, Ashby said, “That’s the nut that has to be cracked.”
Moving forward with the process, the City plans to conduct a workshop, possibly involving Canterbury’s property owner and staff.
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