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Panel Approves Equestrian Center Health Club

February 19, 1987|GREG BRAXTON | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission, which in January reversed its endorsement of a proposed health club and an access road at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center because of the center's poor financial condition, gave the go-ahead to the project last week.

In a 4-0 vote, the board agreed to allow the improvements as long as there is no adverse environmental effect on the neighboring residential community. City Council still must approve the club.

"It's in everybody's interest to try and make the equestrian center as successful as it can be," Commissioner Richard J. Riordan said.

Equestrian center President J. Albert Garcia had said that the health club is necessary to make the center competitive with other facilities on the West Coast horse-show circuit.

Open to Public

When plans for the health club went before the commission in January, members of community and environmental groups protested, saying they feared that the center and club would be available to only a few people. But city officials said they recently assured the groups that the entire facility will be open to the public.

Garcia also promised the groups that the health club will not be taller than existing buildings on the grounds.

In approving the project Friday, commissioners stipulated that the center also pay back rent it owes the city, estimated to be more than $275,000, by July 31. The center failed to pay that rent when it became embroiled in a legal conflict with its chief lender, Gibraltar Savings of Beverly Hills.

During the conflict, the center filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the U. S. Bankruptcy Code.

In late 1985, Garcia and Gibraltar worked out an agreement to add a tack store, horse stalls and retail stores to attract more people to the center. The agreement was based in part on the health club's being built.

Garcia said the center is about $12.9 million in debt.

The club is to include racquetball and volleyball courts, a jogging track, whirlpool baths and steam rooms. Estimates of the cost are $8 million to $10 million.

The new access road, which awaits approval by the state Department of Transportation, would extend the Forest Lawn Drive off-ramp from the Ventura Freeway into the center and would put the main entrance of the center in Los Angeles instead of Burbank.

The existing entrance, off Riverside Drive, would be kept as a secondary access, Garcia said.

Financing for Road

The estimated cost of the road is $1.25 million, Garcia said. The center would pay for the road but would subtract the cost from the rent it will pay the city over a 10-year period.

The commission in December, 1985, voted to approve the concept of the health club and new access road. Commissioners said at the time that the club is an appropriate recreational use for parkland.

But the board in January reversed its endorsement of the health club proposal, expressing doubt that the project could turn around the center's financial condition.

Garcia said the board's temporary reversal of the endorsement may have caused a change of heart by the independent operator who was to build the health club.

He said he will have to negotiate financing of the club and of payments on the loan to Gibraltar before he can specify when the club will be built.

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