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Really? Dallas Needs a $25 Million Horse Park?

Jen Sorensen

This is how far behind the curve I am. The Dallas City Council is tied up in knots debating how to develop a successful horse park in a poor part of the city. I'm asking myself, "What the hell is a horse park?"

Is it like a dog park? People take their horses, let them off the leash, and the horses romp around nipping each other in the butt? Do horses have leashes?

I don't really know from horses. What is this, the Old West? I thought if you wanted a horsey, you had to keep it in the country. I thought that was why they called it the country. This is the city. Right?

Somebody wants the city to build a horse park along the Trinity River between Loop 12 and Highway 175 in a very poor African-American and Latino part of southern Dallas. At the last city council meeting, council member Vonciel Hill, who represents part of this area, pointed to things the city has built in more affluent areas of town, like downtown. Hill said it was a shame the city couldn't bring the same measure of commitment to a horse park in southern Dallas.

Oh, damn. Now I'm in trouble. I'm a liberal. I want southern Dallas to get everything North Dallas gets, but I don't want the city to build a horse park in North Dallas either. Know why? Because it's a damn horse park.

I went to liberal school. I took Liberal 101, Liberal 201, the special liberal seminar and laboratory course where you get to dissect stuff. I got a degree in liberal. I do not remember anyone mentioning horse parks.

I looked up some data on the area where they want to build the horse park. Well, wait, I don't actually even know if you do build a horse park. What would you build? I assume it's not like Six Flags. Surely it doesn't involve horses riding Ferris wheels.

I know people love their horses, but I don't even want to think about people leading their horses around by the hoof buying them cotton candy and glow sticks. That's too sick.

The most recent data I could find for the ZIP code around the proposed horse park is from 2009. It shows average annual household income there at less than $20,000, or about 40 percent of the statewide average.

In that ZIP code, the mean price of a house in 2009 was $58,000, or about a third of the state average. The mean price for a mobile home was $85,000. So it's an area where trailer houses cost more than house houses.

I am not repeating this to put anybody down. I told you, I'm a liberal. Really. The income disparity and sheer physical dissimilarities between most of southern Dallas and North Dallas make me heartsick. But do we need a horse park for that?

There are still long stretches of road in this general part of town that do not have curbs or gutters. There are no buried storm sewers beneath them. Vast areas of southern Dallas are not served by water mains that are large or new enough to allow significant development.

How about this? Instead of a horse park, how about putting very big water mains, storm and sanitary sewer lines all through the area around the University of North Texas at Dallas campus at East Camp Wisdom and Houston School Road, where a paucity of basic infrastructure is the only thing holding back a development boom?

What would a horse park do? All of a sudden people would have a place to take their horses? This area is a food desert. People need food. I might be more favorably disposed to the horse park if it included some kind of facility where, once they got their horses there, people could eat them.

When the horse park idea first came up many years ago, I knew a lady who was deeply involved. She was a horsey person. Very nice. She had a horse trailer you could live in. Way cool.

She painted a grand picture. The horse park would attract people like her, horsey people, from all over the country. They would come to Dallas to do horse park things together.

Only one time did I ask what things. She said, "dressage." I did not ask any more questions, because there are some things about rich people I do not want to know. What happens in horse parks should stay in horse parks.

This is not to say that nobody in Southern Dallas knows anything about horses. The city south of the river and Interstate 30 includes vast reaches of undeveloped land, some of which has a decidedly rural flavor.

Robert Pitre, a southern Dallas businessman, owns an entire ranch, called Skyline, where for years he has provided riding opportunities for inner-city kids. Skyline Ranch probably is the best known horse-riding venue in southern Dallas, at least among people who live there.

"I've probably put 10,000 kids on horses that have never even been near a horse before," he told me last week.

But no one has ever approached Pitre about the horse park. No one has asked his advice. Pitre, who is involved in land issues in his part of town, stays in pretty close touch with City Hall issues, but he said he knows very little about the horse park.

"As far as I can tell, it's a thing for rich white people who don't even live in Dallas."

Maybe that's why even the term, "horse park," seems so obscure. Not a riding stable. Not a camp. Not a ranch. Not anything most of us even understand.

So what should we conclude about a horse park? And why on earth would council member Hill be so enthusiastic about it? What's in it for her?

Whatever a horse park is, it's a Richie Rich thing. In arguing for the horse park, council member Hill said, "Horse people come with money."

I'm not going to touch that.

In this case the rich people made a promise. If the city would kick in a measly $12 million, the Richie Riches would contribute $15 million. That way we could have a $27 million city-owned horse thing.

I was squeamish even then. I thought $12 million was still a lot of money. It is a lot of money, isn't it? Twelve million dollars? That's a lot of money. The rich people said, "Yes, but we're giving you $15 million."

Not me! You're not giving me $15 million for a horse park. You're not giving me a nickel for a horse park. Know why? I do not have a horse.

But when it was time to put the money on the table, the rich people brought in only $1 million. Not $15 million. They put $1 million on the table. They said they didn't have the rest. Trouble on Wall Street and so on.

And that would make our share ... what? No! Are you telling me they think the taxpayers should put in $26 million?

Yeah. Something like that. And now the horsey people have got Vonciel Hill, who is a fine councilperson most of the time and an able champion of her constituents, not only arguing in favor of it but framing it as a civil rights issue.

Listen, man. Somebody in this deal is a genius. Really. Anybody who can get southern Dallas council members, who represent one of the poorest, most benighted urban areas in America, to stand up and demand a horse park as a civil rights issue, is a genius.

I'm not a genius. I'm just a liberal. At some point I'll probably get worn down about it and join them. Damn! Look for me out there. NO POLO, NO PEACE!


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