Mayor Mike Kicks Back Horse Park Proposal, Says to Slow Down On This "World-Class" Thing

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We began the new year by rehashing an ancient topic: the proposed Texas Horse Park that's been around since the mid-1990s and was part of the $246-million capital bond program for the Trinity River Corridor Project approved by voters in 1998. Reason it never happened: The folks charged with partnering with the city never raised the $15 million they were supposed to pony up before the city sunk $12 million more in '06 bond money into the project. They only came up with $1 million. And that wasn't good enough.

So it stayed in the stable till a couple of weeks back, when Paul Dyer, director of the Park and Recreation Department, told the Park Board and the council's Economic Development Committee that it was time to see if maybe a private operator wouldn't mind taking the reins. The hitch: The city would spend millions to build the park ... and possibly spend millions more on operating and maintaining the facility.

The full council spent hours today debating whether or not to even put out that request for proposals. Because, as Sandy Greyson reminded her colleagues: This is not what voters approved. "We told folks we would have that match," she said, referring to the pledged $15 million. "We don't have that match, and that worries me. ... I don't see the financial base of support outside of city dollars to make this successful."

Earlier Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said, well, if the city can't find a good outside operator the city could always allow folks with horses to take over the park as tenants. And that, said Greyson, "would make us landlords, and landlords cover costs." Which means the park would "take city funds and take city funds and take city funds forever."

It became clear over the lengthy discussion that spanned the morning and afternoon hours: The council doesn't know what it wants to do about the horse park. Scott Griggs pointed out: Well, you know, the Kentucky Horse Park's asking the state for a hand-out. And if a horse park fails in Kentucky ... Some council members spoke of having "hope," of the need to "take risks"; others still said this is no different than the Woodall Rodgers Deck Park or the convention center hotel. And, as Vonciel Jones Hill put it: "We're talking world class."

Said Hill, "I recognize that some around this horseshoe were here when this project had a different tenor. That hasn't worked for us. However this project should not be abandoned. This project is an economic development. For four years prior to this I was on the Trinity [River Corridor Project] Committee. This was part of the Trinity development and still is. However I did not hear anyone focusing on a way to make this project successful. I knew it was there, but I did not hear anyone say: 'Let's make this successful.' ...

"It's not time to abandon this project. This project has potential to bring untold benefits to southern Dallas. It will not happen overnight. The Arts District did not happen overnight and did not happen without fits and starts. The deck park did not happen overnight and did not happen without fits and starts. The hotel did not happen overnight and and did not happen without fits and starts. Every successful project, including Central, has had fits and starts. This is no different. Yes, there are risks, but if we don't take risks we won't have success."

Hill didn't hear a pragmatic discussion about costs; she didn't hear thoughtful comments about how in the wide, wide world of sports could the park department be expected to upkeep a horse park when it can't even pay for basic maintenance elsewhere. All she heard were objections, she said, "based on the assumption this project will fail. Try the other assumption -- that it will succeed and if it succeeds it will have the kind of impact, the kind of world-class impact, the city of Dallas talks about."

Well, first of all: Angela Hunt and Paul Dyer had to remind the council that the city didn't kick in its contribution to the deck park till the private foundation raised its many millions. And on top of that, Hunt told Mayor Mike to his great surprise, Woodall Rodgers Deck Park Foundation president Jody Grant also had to provide a letter of credit before the city OK'd it -- a $20 million letter of credit, which Grant personally backed. So, no, Hunt said. The horse park's not quite the same thing.

I could bore you with the back-and-forth over this thing; it was fascinating, sure. In the end, it was Linda Koop who made perhaps the most pragmatic suggestion: Retool the RFP to make sure a would-be operator could "bring forth some additional cash [to put] in an operating reserve, which would be one way to structure it." Or: Take the horse park's existing $1 million "and put it in a reserve and go out and ask some of the foundations if they would put money into cash reserves for operating costs."

After all the council members weighed in, Mayor Mike Rawlings had something to say. I tried my best to get down the whole thing; if I mistyped, well, at least you get the gist till the video's available tomorrow.

"Just to summarize where I'm at," he began. "When I face something like this I try to say, 'What are the big issues we're wrestling with?' The Trinity Forest is an amazing asset to this city -- I think we can all agree, the largest urban forest in the United States -- and making sure we leverage that in some way is important. There was a bond election. Voters voted for us to move ahead and spend some money in a way that did have the horse park in there. We have a social obligation with our voters to look at this and give this a college try. You said we're not legally obligated to do it, but there's a social promise that was made there.

"Personally I think it can work if for no other reason than the convention business. I'm amazed we'll be a huge convention business and there's no place to ride horses. It may be a bad stereotype but you come to Texas and there's no horses? ...That's kind of my personal instinct, but I don't care about my personal instinct but I care about the business of this.

"For me I don't want to move ahead with this if we can't raise money. I just don't. The other part of this was private money would be part of this. I'm with Mr. [Tennell] Atkins: I'm not sure we tested [the private sector]. The first group did, but there's been a leadership change. I'm not as informed as I'd like to be. I wanna make some phone calls, get a sense of how much private money's out there and maybe at the end of this we're handing out high fives.

"I'm confused about how we do business. We need a business plan, a plan that looks at the competitive situation. I saw your map up there but there are other places in Dallas-Fort Worth where you can ride horses. I need to see a pro forma P&L to get to some of the issues Angela's talking about. Is this a pipe dream or something that's doable, because I am not going to support something where we're gonna be spending operating capital. I want to make sure we have a right business plan.

"We get caught up in this term 'world class.' That's odd coming from me ... but I've had a lot of business where you can walk before you run and you can make something that pays out and is a good business plan in one size [and not another]. Sometimes when you scale something you can get out over your skis and get in trouble. We need to make it manageable and make sure we as a city have a lot of leeway. ...

"We owe it to each other to be honest," he said: Do you or don't you want the horse park? If you don't, tell Mary Suhm. "But if this is really a fiscal issue, and most of us agree we don't want to get on the hook on this thing, we should send it back to Economic Development and get that input on the RFP. ... Meanwhile, back at the ranch, if you'll pardon the pun, we need to get on the horn with the private sector and see how much we can raise. ... I am hopeful about this. I want to see this be a wonderful thing to have. But I am cautious as we approach this."

So back to EcoDev it goes. Suhm, clearly beaten down by the day's discussion, added this: "If y'all don't want to do this, just tell me."
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26 comments
Princess Tester
Princess Tester

Let's Cowboy Up!  Their mission is to use horses and a working Ranch as a productive outlet for the at-risk-youth of South Dallas and to offer horse rides and the beauty of the Ranch to the general public.   

LCU sells horse products & services to supplement their community outreach. There's a huge COMPETITION arena (built to exacting standards by prior tenants who are now according to the landowner "in the pen"), FISHING pond, wooded trails and more.  The covered pavilion is available for RENTAL for social gatherings like Quinceañera's, Motorcycle meets, Weddings, Birthday Parties, Corporate Retreats.

I invite every person reading this to come to the Ranch, see for themselves what Let's Cowboy Up has been quietly building while politicians argue around the horseshoe ... http://www.facebook.com/LetsCo...    

http://maps.google.com/maps/pl...

engmofo
engmofo

How 'bout a topless horse ranch......now that would pull in the convention business!!

3rd Wheel Marketing
3rd Wheel Marketing

This is one tangible example of why having someone with business experience in local politics is a great thing. I am not hung up on this idea, but I am certainly glad that our man Mike was there to ask the obvious business-minded questions before getting behind dumping $27 million dollars down a rat hole.

I wish he was around before they funded that that stupid hotel. I wonder if there was a proforma or business plan ever generated before they laid out hundreds of millions of dollars for that big blue beast?

scottindallas
scottindallas

I've come to the conclusion that we need to let horses and cattle graze in the flood plain.  We should build, not a world class nothing, but a rustic corral.  Let's embrace the stereo-type.  I'm sure we could build it, and have private firms bid to run the Dallas Trinity Floodplain Corral.  Great, tall grass that would be shorn by cattle saving us maintenance costs.  Then, once a year we could have a cattle drive and take the cows to Ft. Worth.  We could also re-enact the Little House on the Prairie closing scene right there on the levee banks.

Tim
Tim

I think this is an amazing idea. Of course, the means don't justify the ends. It has to be done correctly.

I'm a city boy but a horse park would bring some more cultural identity and a way to interact with nature and the outdoors. Something severely lacking in Dallas. This area saw cattle drives, plains-life for many years, it would be beneficial to locals and even tourists to learn that first hand.

Much better than a damn ferris wheel! Hope this can come to fruition the correct way.

Crookedblackpreacher
Crookedblackpreacher

dumbest.idea.ever.

is JWP or some crooked black preacher getting paid by BRW for this?

sandra crenshaw
sandra crenshaw

One will not believe the hours and untold costs to the Citizens of Dallas  and the acrimony that Vonceil HILL caused during redistricting in an effort to keep the horse park in her districk.   Carraway wanted it, Atkins wanted it, but Carrawaysneaked it in Carolyn Davis districk  who  he has to help her find which button to push so that means he will have control of it.  Evidence that the park is not about the people in Pleasant Grove who literally live across the street from the proposed area or it would have been put into the newly drawn Pleasant Grove council district. 

The nerve of  Hill who offers little more to the council than complaining about what the whites won't give the southern section or blaming them for all of our ill---She had this to say " For four years prior to this I was on the Trinity [River Corridor Project] Committee. This was part of the Trinity development and still is. However I did not hear anyone focusing on a way to make this project successful. I knew it was there, but I did not hear anyone say: 'Let's make this successful.' ..."WHAT THE HELL DID WE ELECT HER FOR"  WHERE ARE HER IDEAS. Maybe with a different council person with a brain we can get somewhere at least in this area. The people in Red Bird who keep electing her deserve no better. 

RTGolden
RTGolden

All this back and forth over the financial feasibility of the horse park.  Would that as much time had been spent studying the pros and cons of Flow Control before the City tried to ram it down our throats.  Might be a few Council members and a passel of city lawyers with less egg on their faces.

roadsidecouch
roadsidecouch

He know Masta Price would never appove of it and does not want to wake up with a horse head i n ish bed.

Paul
Paul

So Mayor Mike doesn't want us to be "world class" ... tsk tsk ... I guess it was because they are going to give the bond money to Wally World on Ledbetter ... We have to tighten the belt somewhere folks ...

Ben
Ben

How often do conventioneers from the convention center visit the Trinity River Audubon Center? Is that a money making operation? Is there some hidden ecotourism economy? Let that serve as a litmus test.

I guess the other question would be, is the Texas Horse Park being designed to cater towards tourists? Sounds that way. Will the surrounding community of Pleasant Grove be left out in the cold?

It has been mentioned before that Let's Cowboy Up, a non-profit, already does a ton of cool things with horses down there. I dropped by there a couple weekends ago for about half an hour and was blown away. The local kids who knew how to saddle their own horse, practice for their pony express races(very cool) and do it all while saying "yes sir, yes ma'am" without prompting. They are a shining star in a dimly lit and somewhat cloudy neighborhood.

Ed D.
Ed D.

We need a horse park for the convention business because tourists expect to be able to ride horses, forget the cost to the city or parks for people who live here? I look forward to the city's new Free Stetsons & Boots program to outfit every Dallas resident with a snazzy ten-gallon hat and a pair of 'kickers so the tourists aren't disappointed, too.

Granny
Granny

Just say, "neigh."

Downtown_worker
Downtown_worker

The city can't figure out how to run a farmers market, but somehow they know how to run a horse park? That project needs a strong private partner or its dead.

P.S. I hope the other Walmart announcement is that WM is taking over the Dallas Farmers Market.

G_David
G_David

Districk?  Seriously? 

Adam from East Dallas
Adam from East Dallas

World Class and Horse Park do not belong in the same sentence.  Let's call this for what it is... a Boon Doggle.  If I recall correctly, this "Horse Park" was discussed when the State Legislature was considering legalizing gambling casinos.  One of the bills stated that such casinos could only be built at horse tracks, water ways, and reservations.  If I also recall correctly, there are certain public figures that own nearby property or have an ownership interest in the private venture that initially promised to raise the "seed money".  When the Texas legislature failed to even consider the legal gambling bills, the seed money dried up.  If tourists want to ride horses, they can head due west to Fort Worth or north to Southfork and get their Cowboy on there.

Princess Tester
Princess Tester

Ben, you're right... Let's Cowboy Up!  Their mission is to use horses and a working Ranch as a productive outlet for the at-risk-youth of South Dallas and to offer horse rides and the beauty of the Ranch to the general public.   

LCU sells horse products & services to supplement their community outreach. There's a huge COMPETITION arena (built to exacting standards by prior tenants who are now according to the landowner "in the pen"), FISHING pond, wooded trails and more.  The covered pavilion is available for RENTAL for social gatherings like Quinceañera's, Motorcycle meets, Weddings, Birthday Parties, Corporate Retreats.

I invite every person reading this to come to the Ranch, see for themselves what Let's Cowboy Up has been quietly building while politicians argue around the horseshoe ... http://www.facebook.com/LetsCo...    

http://maps.google.com/maps/pl...

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

I think that's a misprint or a typo. 

"I'm amazed we'll be a huge convention business and there's no place to ride whores" is probably ore accurate.  I think we all know what convention-goers are after.

Lee
Lee

You obviously don't know what is happening at the Farmers Market with several new restaurants and food vendors moving into Shed 2. There is also a new management team in place that is making things happen for the good for farmers, produce dealers and the knowledgeable consumers who shop there.

Paul
Paul

From Councilmember Vonciel Jones Hill:

"... that it will succeed and if it succeeds it will have the kind of impact, the kind of world-class impact, the city of Dallas talks about."

And from Mayor Mike:

"We get caught up in this term 'world class.' That's odd coming from me ... "

Maybe you should to go work on that reading comprehension a little bit.

Downtown_worker
Downtown_worker

I actually love the farmers market and wish it would do better. Last time I was there, Shed 2 was mostly empty except for a guy behind a table selling honey.

Realtime
Realtime

Sorry. Remind me again why the City of Dallas keeps operating a farmer's market that has been a sink hole for tax dollars for the past several decades? Sell the land to a developer. If people want a farmers market near downtown private enterprise will create one or the city can create a small size farmers market that has some relationship to the real demand.   

Lee
Lee

Go again soon. I was there on Saturday about 10:30 and again at 1:00. Shed 2 was packed. Roaring Fork BBQ attracts people from across the City., but it is only open Thursday to Sunday. Other food stands are open all week. I heard a report last night on the number of new restaurants and vendors moving in. Look into joining the Farmers Market Friends, a group that actively supports the market.

Jason
Jason

Or we could try having a Farmer's Market - you know where farmers bring food grown on their farms and sell it directly to consumers - instead of the Distributors Truck in Food From all Over the USA and Sell you the same crap you can buy at Kroger's Market. We might get people to go to the former.

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