State gaming board to weigh in on Hardwick horse racing track project

HARDWICK — Even before elected officials vote on whether to allow a thoroughbred racetrack on a 359-acre farm, opponents say they will work to overturn the plan with a petition that if the council favors the track , would send the matter to a ballot.

Selectors have the authority to allow the track to operate from Great Meadowbrook Farm at 228 Barre Road, but there are additional steps, including Planning Board and State approval, before any racing can take place.

The State Gaming Commission will hold its mandatory public hearing into the matter from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday at Hardwick Elementary School on Schoolhouse Drive.

The selectors are due to meet Oct. 24, although a potential track vote was not on the agenda Thursday.

The elected officials’ vote, however, could be overturned if 12% of the city’s registered voters, or 237, sign a petition asking them to reconsider.

If the council does not change its vote, the petition would require a special election that could uphold or overturn the elected officials’ decision.

During a two-night, six-hour public hearing on the issue earlier this month, opponents said they planned to circulate a petition if the council approved the site.

Opponents said they were concerned about traffic, gambling and the possibility of up to 5,000 people coming to town on festival days when horse racing, food trucks would be set up and kiosks on-site bets would be temporarily erected.

Online bets could also be made on horses competing in Hardwick, which is part of how some revenue from the state’s new gambling law would reach the town.

The Commonwealth Equine and Agricultural Center would operate day-to-day as a breeding and training facility for thoroughbred racehorses. Part of the plan also includes use of the site for retired racehorses.

Richard Fields and Robin Kalaidjian, managing partners of the Commonwealth Equine and Agricultural Center, at a public hearing on their plan to breed, race and retire thoroughbred horses on October 3, 2022.

These efforts would be supported by the track which would initially run one weekend a year with the hope of increasing to three or four weekends within a decade when the stock of racehorses is increased enough to support more races, John A. Stefanini, chairman of the Commonwealth Equine and Agricultural Center Racing Supervisory Board, explained.

The city would benefit from $500,000 a year through a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program and could negotiate other benefits with Hardwick officials as a host community agreement is developed.

Stefanini told the Zoom selectors’ meeting on Monday evening that a proposed deal had been sent to the selectors for consideration. It is expected that there will be negotiations on the deal if the board votes in favor of the track.

He said Commonwealth managing partners Richard Fields and Robin Kalaidjian and other team members have also been looking at other properties in town to open a farm-to-table restaurant, a bed and breakfast and a parking for the track.

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