Real Estate

They're Still Horsing Around With That Texas Horse Park

After news of yet another delay in the Trinity River Project, we thought it was about time to check in on the progress of the Texas Horse Park, especially with the deadline for Texas Horse Park, Inc. to raise $15 million rapidly approaching. Turns out THPI ain't nowhere close to raising that kind of dough by September, and there is no way of knowing how long the project will be delayed at this point.

The horse park mess began back in December, when the city council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee suspended $2.7 million in funding for the design phase of the project because THPI had raised only $300,000 at that point. This delayed the design phase from January to May, but the committee hasn't addressed the issue since December, so the design phase remains in limbo.

Back in December, THPI board member Diane Pitts and others attributed the fund-raising problems to the Trinity toll road referendum, and she told me cash would start coming in with the vote out of the way. So I called over to THPI to get a current tally of its efforts since December, and executive director Jaymie Sanford Sattiewhite described the amount raised since then as "nothing very significant," and noted grant money received from the Hillcrest Foundation and the Dallas Foundation, along with "pretty good-sized" private donations from board members.

However, Sattiewhite stresses that THPI is cultivating "three lead gifts" amounting to "millions" of dollars she is not at liberty to discuss. She says these gifts, if secured, would likely be enough to encourage the city to begin the design phase of the horse park.

Sattiewhite says she has been in constant communication with the city regarding THPI's fund-raising efforts, and no new dates have been discussed. As mentioned in my December story, THPI was given until September 2008 to raise $15 million, per the contract between THPI and the city, to match the taxpayers' contribution with hopes that the horse park would open in spring 2010.

With both dates facing delays, the city has four options under the agreement signed with THPI: Terminate the contract, cancel the project and reprogram the remaining funds; attempt to renegotiate a reduced scope of the plans with THPI; proceed with another operator other than THPI, starting the fund-raising process from the beginning; or delay the project until THPI can raise the remaining funds.

Rebecca Dugger, director of the Trinity River Corridor Project, says, "Obviously it's going to be delayed," but she doesn't know what option the city is leaning toward, given that she hasn't been working much with THPI. We're waiting to hear back from Willis Winters, assistant director of the Park and Recreation Department, who apparently knows more. But District 13 park board member Ann Margolin tells Unfair Park, "From the park board standpoint, we have heard nothing."

Dugger stresses that the horse park is merely a stand-alone piece and won't have a domino effect on other parts of the project. She says the committee is likely to be briefed on the situation sometime in September or October.

"We really want [THPI] to be a partner with us, but if not, it's up to the Park Department and the council on how to go forward," Dugger tells Unfair Park.

Time to chalk up another delay on the big board. What was it Mayor Tom said about expediting this whole thing?

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten