The sky over the Texas Horse Park on Thursday morning was clear and blue, unblemished by even a wisp of cloud; weather would not be dampening the morning's ribbon-cutting celebration, which has been nearly two decades in the making. On the ground, the forecast was equally sunny. All the gathered dignitaries -- the mayor, a third of the City Council, philanthropists, city staffers, various hangers on -- were enthusiastic horse park supporters. The horse park's various critics -- people whose land was taken, who think the facility too costly, who have been screwed over by Wayne Kirk, whose nonprofit the city selected to operate the horse park -- were nowhere to be seen. There was no one to "rain on our horse park parade" like they did a year ago, the last time there was a big public discussion of the horse park. As such, the onanistic flood of acclaim and self-praise was free to flow unstaunched.
"Leaders have vision," declared Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill, Dallas' perennial champion of rhetorical onanism. "We close our eyes. We look up at the sky and we see a dream. When I came on the council in 2007 I looked at this spot . I saw dirt -- but I saw a dream. I saw a place where we could have horses, where we could ride, where we could have trail rides and we could have all of the other things that we do with and around horses."
You can't do anything with or around horses at the Texas Horse Park quite yet, as the facility won't open for another month. This initially puzzled some of the TV crews, who took from the pomp and rhetoric that this was the grand opening, which in actuality is on March 28. This, they were told, was a "sculpture and site dedication" -- essentially Mayor Mike Rawlings and some other people in suits snipping a fake ribbon in front of a giant abstract horse statue. "Equine Rhythm," as the statue is called, is an undulating, three-ton assemblage of weathering steel created by Louisiana-born artist Curtis Patterson through the city's public art program at a cost of about $150,000.
Soon, though, the two nonprofits picked by the city to run the Texas Horse Park will be in full swing. Equest, headquartered in Wylie, will offer therapeutic riding to special-needs children and veterans in a pair of small arenas -- one open-air, one covered -- on the southern end of the horse park. Currently Equest serves about 300 clients but CEO Patrick Bricker says opening the second location should help them double that number, particularlyonce a planned "ambassador" program begins sending miniature horses into schools and nursing homes.
Dallasites who aren't veterans or special-needs children will go through River Ranch Educational Charities, which will do trail rides, birthday parties, corporate events and the like. River Ranch is run by Kirk, a back-slapping businessman who in the past has been accused of defrauding investors in oil-and-gas ventures, habitually failing to pay the lease on two previous dude-ranch ventures, and, yes, abusing his horses. Kirk was present at the ribbon cutting, grinning and sun-tanned, but Rawlings didn't mention him in his brief remarks, and he didn't take the microphone. Instead, River Ranch was represented by Brandy Ziegler.
The time the speakers spent not talking about Kirk they devoted to justifying the existence of the horse park, which cost the city in the ballpark of $20 million once all the costs are totaled. These justifications fell into two broad categories: Because Economic Development and Because Texas.
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The latter position was expressed by Councilman Rick Callahan ("Cowboys and cowgirls need horses to ride. We're known as the Dallas Cowboys, so you've gotta have a horse.") and Texas Horse Park Foundation Chairman John Bankston ("There's a lot of people that come into DFW and usually one of the first things they say is they'd like to ride a horse, but Dallas didn't have a place to ride a horse.") but was put most succinctly by Mayor Pro-Tem Tennell Atkins who, after reminiscing about the exclamations of "J.R." and "horses" that greeted him on a trip to Johannesburg, declared that "Dallas is horses."
On the former point, Atkins talked about how the horse park would "grow the tax base south in Pleasant Grove," which, given that the horse park is owned by the city and thus not subject to property tax, seemed a curious point. But he probably has been having the same visions as Hill, who didn't just picture a horse park on the property. "I see restaurants. I see a hotel. I see a recreational facility such as a bowling alley. I see a bookstore."
Atkins also took the opportunity to shill for the Trinity toll road. Since so many people will be flocking to the horse park, nearby Trinity Forest Golf Cours, and related developments, "we'll probably need that parkway also to bring more people here to get here without congestion in this part of town."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.