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Money for Horse Barns easy to find

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Horse barns could top $1 million

Panel discusses fixing or replacing equestrian center structures not built to code.

By JORDAN RODACK

The Times-Union

Jacksonville is still deciding how to fix up and finally open three temporary barns at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center to house as many as 300 more horses during special events.

The barns have gone unused since they were completed in March because the city didn't pull a permit for the $405,000 temporary structures and they weren't built according to state code.

A multi-agency committee discussed two options for the barns Tuesday: improve the three barns or start over and build two new permanent structures.

Both options would cost $1.3 million to $1.5 million, which the city would have to borrow, said Dave Schneider, assistant management improvement officer for the Public Works Department. A final decision would need to be approved by the City Council.

"The permanent ones [barns] cost a little more, but they are of much higher architectural quality and appearance than anything we could do with these temporaries that are out there now," Schneider said.

The committee is gathering cost estimates for both plans but did not set a date for the next meeting.

Jacksonville has already spent $32.4 million on the 110-acre complex on the Westside, which includes a 4,000-seat indoor arena, an outdoor arena and two lighted outdoor practice rings. The complex was completed this year. About $29 million came from a voter-approved tax as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan.

In July, Mayor John Peyton announced he wanted the city to borrow another $4 million to solve a variety of problems at the complex, including poor drainage and too few parking spaces. The additional money needed for the structures would be part of the $4 million, Schneider said.

The $4 million is part of $130 million Peyton wants to borrow for numerous city projects. The proposal is now in council committees and may come up for a vote later this year.

The problem with the barns started when Jacksonville did not get a permit to build the temporary structures. The barns also weren't raised high enough off the ground, which allows water to fill the stalls when it rains. State building codes also require the buildings to withstand 100 mph winds.

If the city decides to shore up the three barns, contractors would improve drainage, set solid foundations and replace the roofs. The two permanent barns under consideration would likely be similar to a 150-stall permanent barn already in place, which was built with $1.1 million in contingency funds.

Private donations were expected to raise $5 million for two permanent barns, but only about $900,000 had come in as of last month.

The committee should decide what to do within the next few weeks, said Bob Downey, general manager of SMG, the company that manages the equestrian center. Downey also said some potential equestrian events went elsewhere due to the uncertainty of the barns.

"We haven't been able to use these temporary ones because they have never met building code and having horse events is driven largely by being able to house the horses, which are typically very expensive animals that people bring in," he said. "It's as important as providing hotel rooms for conventioneers."

^^I don't oppose the equestrian center in general, but I do resent that Peyton seems to pull out all the stops to give it all the money it supposedly needs. Meanwhile, Mike Langton has been waiting for months for the city to step up to help complete renovations to the Barnett building. Ditto for the Laura Place trio. Historic preservation and the economic development it would bring downtown, should be at least as important as developing a new tourist attraction.

Secondly, this is the second major example of the city giving generously to a non-profit to support a major project. The other example is the St. John's River Band's deal with the Synder Church property. In both cases, the non-profit had to put up a partial match to the city's contribution. And in both cases, neither has come anywhere close to being able to raise the funds required. These costly bailouts should be of more concern to the city than whether the developers of downtown projects make a profit on them (ie Harbor Companies' selling Berkman Plaza).

P.S. Could the Genevour project in LaVilla be the next one to need a bailout?

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