Technically I could have filed this under "Today's History Lesson," since most of you who even recall the Texas Horse Park likely considered it a thing of the past. After all it's been around since the mid-1990s and was included in the $246-million capital bond program for the Trinity River Corridor Project in 1998, in which $2.56 million was allocated for an equestrian center. It reappeared as part of the 2006 bond program, in which $12 million was set aside for development of the Texas Horse Park, with another $2 million going toward land acquisition not far from the Trinity River Audubon Center.
A master plan was completed and presented to council in 2007, but as Sam pointed out way back in '08, the thing stalled out in large part because those in charge of the project couldn't raise the other $15 million in private funds needed for Phase I of the project. There were some fund-raising efforts made in 2010, but in all, city officials say now, the horse park only ponied up $1 million, give or take.
Now, all these years later, the city once more is wrestling with the familiar old: What now? But for the first time in a long time, we may be nearing a resolution.
Paul Dyer, director of the Park and Recreation Department, briefed the Park Board on a proposal just yesterday and will give the council's Economic Development Committee the same presentation Tuesday. In it, he will propose putting out a request for a proposal in February in the hopes of finding a private operator who'd be willing to "manage, operate and maintain the horse park at no cost to the city," he tells Unfair Park this afternoon. "And if they want to put in some money, that would be fine with us."
Says Dyer, several groups, among them the Trinity Trust, attempted to raise money for the Texas Horse Park but simply "weren't successful." But rather than let the idea die, the city thought it best to see if anyone else would be interested -- seeing as how those behind the operation have long insisted "the Park is projected to generate over $350 million in revenues for the facility and other businesses during its first ten years of operation, including revenues from the facility's operations, contract concessionaires and vendors at the facility, local stores and other local businesses, horse industry suppliers, and local hotel and motels." (Which, some city officials said this afternoon, is pure speculation -- a "hopeful guesstimation," in the words of one -- based upon a a report the horse park commissioned from a firm in Austin.)
"Hopefully," says Dyer, an RFP "will flush out anyone in the country who can help us, and if nothing happens then it's the decision of the council: Where do we go from here? Do we abandon the project? There are a number of options, but this is gives us an opportunity to see if anyone's interested."
Says Dyer there's only $12 million left for development; the rest of the bond funds have been spent on land acquisition. Worst-case scenario, he says, the land that's been paid for will make "a great addition to the Trinity Forest and as a place for trails and even a place for equestrian trails."
I've tried all day to reach Texas Horse Park officials, via email and voice mail, and haven't gotten a response; perhaps one will come before Tuesday's meeting. But I did ask Dyer if they're still involved in the operation, to which he responded: "I can't say what their intentions are going forward." But what happens if an independent operator does step forward with a viable bid?
"They" -- meaning, the Texas Horse Park -- "haven't opted to be an operator," he says. "What would probably happen is it seems to be they would like to be a 'friends' organization that would be a champion of the park and talk to other groups and bring in events and create some networking."
Terms of the deal with the outside contractor, should one pop up, will be made available with other details in the briefing docs that will be posted tonight. I'll post it tomorrow morning.
Dyer says this is about to be the council's decision: Either it opts to find that outside operator, or decides to reallocate that $12 million in bond funds. And if for whatever reason it decides the latter? "Typically bonds sold in a particular proposition can be used for other projects that are similar." Meaning: If the council opts to stick the horse park in the stable, it might look to use the money elsewhere along the Trinity.