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City Still Intent on Building Texas Horse Park, Now With Two Nonprofits On Board

Like oh so many other things included in the Trinity River corridor project, the Texas Horse Park has not yet come to pass. The 500-acre equestrian center was supposed to have opened four years ago last month but was delayed when it became clear that city's private-sector partner in the venture, Texas Horse Park Inc., had raised just $1 million. That was a tad bit shy of the $15 million it had promised as a match to the city's bond expenditures.

The lack of private-sector support maybe should have killed the project, but it didn't. It wasn't until earlier this year, however, that the park re-emerged in slightly altered form when the city began looking for an outside entity to develop and manage the park at no cost to the city.

The City Council will learn Wednesday about the fruits of the search. It seems that there are two nonprofits, Equest and River Ranch Educational Charities, which are nearing agreements with the city to use the Texas Horse Park. The former is a horse therapy center in Wylie that treats kids and adults with developmental disabilities; the latter is a group dedicated to exposing underprivileged families to nature. SMU's equestrian team also is apparently considering using the space, though that deal is less certain.

Equest and River Ranch would use the park rent-free, the former to provide therapy, the latter to sell trail rides and the like to the public as a means of funding its charitable work. In return, the groups would agree to maintain the site and pledge a certain level of community services. River Ranch, for example, would be required to offer free trail and pony rides on specified days to the general public. Space for SMU would be reserved in case the school decides it wants it. Texas Horse Park Inc. would become more of a "friends" group, raising money to help cover operating costs and future expansion.

The proposal puts the burden of paying for the park squarely on the city. Wednesday's briefing repeatedly stresses that the city will not fund the nonprofits' operating costs, but it will have to pony up $12 million from a 2006 bond package to build arenas, stalls, fenced pastures and otherwise develop the site.

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That's a lot of money to pour into a project that will serve Equest's150 patients and however many Dallasites want to pay River Ranch for a trail ride. The hope is that the park will continue to develop and become an economic boon that brings in dollars but, per a city-sponsored economic impact study, that's not going to happen.

District 11 park board member Lee Kleinman sent a letter to council members urging them to oppose moving the project forward. The reason there was so little private investment is because few people have any use for a horse park, he argues. The money would be much better spent building two to three "modern, year round, aquatic facilit(ies)" that would serve thousands of people.

But the horse park does still have two things going for it: the adjective "world-class" and the opportunity to watch Mayor Mike Rawlings ride a pony, both of which are priceless.

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