Horse park board eager to learn about funding

The mood in the small room was one of excitement as Florida Horse Park board officers took in the news that not only is the new covered arena on pace to open in July, but also that the Florida Legislature has agreed to give the park an additional $2 million in funding.

The arena, which already has events booked, was paid for by the $2 million the Legislature and governor approved last year. This year’s funding is still not official, however, since Gov. Rick Scott has the power to veto the award.

The path to get the final $2 million in the budget was fraught with obstacles, said Carol Dover, Horse Park secretary, during Thursday night’s board meeting.

“It was a million. It was zero. It was 2.5… At about midnight, two people blinked and said, ‘Let’s agree to $2 million,’ ” she said.

Dover, who also is president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, feels that if this year’s $2 million comes to fruition, the park will be on pace to make big advances.

It would likely go to build barns, which are badly needed to house competitors’ animals. The park currently uses temporary barns.

The horse park was created in 1996 by an act of the Legislature and covers 500 acres in Southeast Marion County off County Road 475. It has an estimated total cost of between $60 to $70 million to complete. The 2013 money, however, was the first time the state actually funded the project.

“It was government land. We have people writing their own personal checks, but the government did not step up to the plate; they kept on vetoing and vetoing. Thank you Rick Scott for putting your faith in us,” Dover said.

Dover hopes to get Scott to visit the arena once it is complete. The impressive structure, covering an area larger than a football field, is in the final stages of completion.

“It’s going to be a really great facility. It’s been a lot of fun working on this project,” said Brandon Bass, vice president and project manager for McLaughlin and Company, the general contractor on the job.

The board’s executive committee and other members have strived to leave nothing to chance. Everything from the color and design of the building, to the mixture of the footing where horses will compete, took up hours of conversation and debate over the past few months.

On Thursday, the footing was discussed again. While the committee already agreed to have the footing made up of a mixture of sand and clay, other options, including expensive synthetic surfaces, were discussed. The discussion again led to the conclusion that the sand/clay mixture was the best surface to host the diverse disciplines expected to compete in the arena.

“We don’t want to leave anybody out,” said Jim Payton, the board’s chairman.

Don McDuffie, a board member who helped research the footing, said the surface could be tailored for any type of competition.

Charlie Hicks, board treasurer, said the long and sometimes tedious discussions were essential because it was public money.

“Accountability has been brought into the process. Good things are happening. The money is being well used and is having a positive economic benefit to the area,” Hicks said.

Lonny Powell, the board’s second vice-chairman, was more concise with his feelings.

“I’m just really excited,” he said, with a big smile on his face.

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By Carlos E. Medina
Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 at 5:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 2, 2014 at 5:28 p.m.