Horsefeathers

What do you get when you cross a horse with a white elephant? The Las Colinas Equestrian Center.

All came to a head in May 1996, when Hersman decided it was time to tell the boarders that they would be contending with major construction. He sent out a letter claiming he was building a "first class" facility and that he "someday hoped to host the Olympics" in the new space.

He might as well have lit a match in the hay barn. The boarders, who had visions of drunken middle managers and wedding guests wandering into the stable and feeding hors d'oeuvres to their $50,000 show horses, were not amused. He received an avalanche of sharp replies accusing him of trying to "flimflam" them. Notes of horsey class bias crept into the equation. Hersman, whose main experience with owning and riding horses was as a roper, didn't mix well with the boarders, and vice versa.

"When Dr. Hersman got the contract, there started to be all these western shows," says Jim Moore, echoing a common complaint. When Hersman brought in ropings, cuttings, and -- heaven forbid -- barrel racers, discreet calls went in to the health department, the fire marshal, city code inspectors.

Built in 1981, the Las Colinas Equestrian Center was the pride and joy of Ben Carpenter. Over the years, the property fell into a genteel state of disrepair.
Mark Graham
Built in 1981, the Las Colinas Equestrian Center was the pride and joy of Ben Carpenter. Over the years, the property fell into a genteel state of disrepair.
Built in 1981, the Las Colinas Equestrian Center was the pride and joy of Ben Carpenter. Over the years, the property fell into a genteel state of disrepair.
Built in 1981, the Las Colinas Equestrian Center was the pride and joy of Ben Carpenter. Over the years, the property fell into a genteel state of disrepair.

A group of boarders, led by Moore, hired a lawyer and demanded meetings with Hersman and DCURD. Bill Allen, then chief executive officer of La Madeleine restaurants, happened to board a horse at the center. He offered to look at Hersman's plans. Allen issued a report pointing out that Hersman had no budget for grease traps, restrooms, or security.

The construction never commenced. Everyone thought the problem -- or perhaps the solution -- had gone away.

They were wrong.


Ever determined, Hersman simply continued his search for $1 million in capital. Indeed, his management agreement with DCURD obliged him to begin construction on the east wing of the barn by spring 1997.

By March 1997, Hersman and Williams, his fellow veterinarian and longtime partner, had a set of investors willing to consider pumping $600,000 into the "Mustang Ranch." Hersman began making preparations to tear out the east wing. The boarders got wind of what was afoot and threatened suit once more. Tedesco, who was occupying the stalls Hersman wished to tear out, consulted her attorney, who apparently noted that Hersman had offered Tedesco an option to lease both halves of the barn. Tedesco gave notice she was exercising her option and taking the entire barn.

Along the way, someone called Ben Carpenter, who set up a meeting.

"I took Dr. Hersman up to the [Carpenters'] ranch," Brune recalls. "Ben Carpenter gave his interpretation of the language [limiting the property to equine uses]. And as far as I was concerned, that put a damper on Mr. Hersman's plans."

Hersman remembers events differently. "In my opinion, [Carpenter] knew everything that was going on the whole time," he says. "He didn't say 'Don't do the plan.' He said, 'Modify the plan.' It was the litigation [with Tedesco] that put a pall on the plans."

Hersman sued to evict Tedesco, who had stopped paying rent. Tedesco countersued, alleging that Hersman was in violation of his contract with DCURD. She also sued DCURD to force them to contract directly with her.

In November, Hersman obtained an order evicting Tedesco from the property, and he asked some of the more troublesome boarders to leave. At the same time, it seems as though he almost went out of his way to irritate the remaining boarders. He leased the cross-country course to the local Land Rover dealership, so homemakers and doctors could learn to drive their $65,000 sport utility vehicles in low range should they ever make it out of the city limits. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell anyone. When the remaining boarders headed out on trail rides one weekend, they found themselves coming face to face with 7,500-pound SUVs. "You'd be riding your horse on the trail," recalls one person, speaking on condition that he not be identified. "And then all of a sudden -- whoosh -- here come these bozos with all four wheels in the air."

Hersman attempted to schedule softball tournaments. He held cattle events. Most important, he let the barn sit half empty and sued Tedesco for $17,000 a month in rent.

The case will be tried this August.


Throughout the boarders' revolt, Brune and his assistant Jacky Knox were called in to mediate. They got rid of the Land Rovers and squelched the softball; they met with the boarders and promised to resolve some of the maintenance problems; they soothed Hersman's ruffled feathers.

But Brune and DCURD had their own problems. In 1999, the district was scheduled to make a hefty repayment on its bonds. Its tax rate also jumped, compounding an existing problem. The planned development of remaining land in Las Colinas had long since stopped, in part because of what lenders and tenants see as the extraordinarily high tax rates in the district. Some 40 percent of Las Colinas' original 12,000 acres -- 4,800 acres just west of LBJ freeway and north of Highway 114 -- remain undeveloped. Most of that, some 3,390 acres, are within DCURD's taxing authority, along with about 30 disgruntled property owners. DCURD wants more development, which would create more tax revenue to pay off the bonds. The existing property owners would like to have fellow taxpayers to help spread the burden.

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