Victoria officials could terminate 50-year-old lease with Horseman's Club

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Jan. 5, 2014 at 10 p.m.
Updated Jan. 4, 2014 at 7:05 p.m.

The Victoria City Council is expected Tuesday to decide the fate of the Horseman's Club, which has run youth rodeos and equestrian events in Riverside Park for the past 50 years.

Citing safety concerns and lease violations, Councilman Tom Halepaska said he wanted to see the property cleaned up and the club gone. The city has not announced whether a new organization would take over the lease.

Mayor Paul Polasek said while the club is set to lose the lease, the group can continue using the property.

"We want to keep them using it. We just have to get in there and make sure it's maintained properly," he said.

Horseman's Club President Mose Moore said he disagreed with the council's intentions.

"I think someone else wants the facility, and that's not going to happen," Moore said. "Everything out here belongs to the Horseman's Club. The only thing the city owns is the concession stand building. The stands and fencing are the club's."

Donna Sparks, who has been a member of the club since the 1970s, anticipates Tuesday's vote to mark a monumental change in the equestrian community.

Sparks, 55, of Victoria, called the city's criticism of the club "harsh" and "unfair."

"We've done the best we could with what we have. We just don't have much," she said.

She recalls the club's heyday, when hundreds of contestants in the Texas Youth Rodeo Association and dozens of active volunteers kept the property maintained and busy. Over time, as owning horses and competing became more expensive, the Riverside Park arena turned into a training ground for beginners, she said.

"Back then, we could compete on a backyard horse," she said. "Now, it's not unusual to see people mount their kids on $40,000 or $50,000 horses."

After investing in horses, tack, trailers with living quarters and trucks to haul it all, Victoria Horseman's Club Arena doesn't meet the mark, she said.

Sparks is hopeful Tuesday's vote will lead to a positive outcome and the potential for a new arena.

"The purpose of our club is to promote youth horsemanship," she said. "If it means losing the (lease) to get a better place for the kids, then I'm all for that."

The Horseman's Club signed the current lease in March 2009, agreeing to pay rent through in-kind maintenance and improvement work. The contract requires annual improvements of $1,100 and gives specific deadlines to other repairs, according to information from the city.

The roof on the concession stand has "severe leaks" and is unusable, according to information from the city. Furthermore, "rusted and dilapidated" spectator stands raise questions about spectator safety, and electrical wiring and boxes on the facility were not maintained to code requirements.

City Manager Charmelle Garrett said if the council votes to terminate the lease, city staff will do another evaluation on the property and make recommendations for budgeting repairs.

Halepaska said it boils down to the club not living up to the agreement.

"They failed in their caretaking duties," he said. "It's public property. It's not their property."

He, along with Polasek and Councilman Emett Alvarez, have worked with the club for almost 18 months to reach an agreement on the lease and the diminishing conditions of the equestrian facility.

The club agreed to cancel the lease, Polasek said, but never followed through.

Once cleaned up, Halepaska said the club could continue using the center but would no longer be the property's caretaker.

"We're trying to leave it as flexible and open as they want," he said. "It's not a matter of trying to punish anyone or be hurtful or mean-spirited to anyone."

For Sparks, who raised her family around the arena, the end of the lease comes with mixed emotions.

She wants to see the center continue to operate as a place for children to learn how to ride.

"Having been associated with the club for so many years, I'm sad that the time has passed for it because I have so many good memories associated with it," she said. "I also can see that it's really not a modern facility, and it's not what we need now."



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