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Parks Dept. Asks Denial of Equine Center Plan

March 29, 1988|RICHARD COLVIN | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department on Monday recommended rejecting an ambitious plan to revive the financially ailing equestrian center at Griffith Park.

The reorganization plan, which included selling 300 horse stalls and building a medieval theme restaurant and jousting arena, was proposed by the center's management, Los Angeles Equestrian Center. The plan is backed by a promise of $12.3 million in desperately needed financing.

James E. Hadaway, general manager of Recreation and Parks, issued a 10-page report that said the department could not recommend approving the proposal because an environmental impact report had not been done and a new contract had not been negotiated with the city.

Ability to Pay Doubted

In addition, the department's report said, the various proposals in the plan would reduce the center's ability to attract large horse shows, and the department doubted the operator's ability to pay $650,000 rent owed the city.

The report also said it considered the vocal opposition of horse enthusiasts who board their animals at the highly acclaimed facility. Opponents said the plans would make more than 20 acres of the site's 72 acres unusable for horse owners.

The reorganization plan goes before the Board of Referred Powers on Wednesday and the Los Angeles City Council next Tuesday. If it is rejected, the center's future will be uncertain. The city-owned center is operated under contract with the management corporation.

Center Won't Close

In an interview, Hadaway said he wanted to assure horse owners the center will not close. "There are lots of options, but I am sure that all of the options included the continued operation of the center," he said.

A representative of Gibraltar Savings, which has vowed to foreclose on a $9-million loan to the center's management by April 25, said no options have been ruled out, including closing the center.

"We did promise that the horses would not starve," said Dean Harrison, Gibraltar's general counsel. "But we will look at all our options. We cannot promise that it will continue running as it's running. We'd rather not run a horse center. We're not in the business of running other businesses."

J. Albert Garcia, president of the equestrian center, vowed to win support for the reorganization plan.

"We are going to make every attempt to rebut this nonsense and make our case," Garcia said. "I have a basic faith in . . . the intelligence of the people here."

Several Pleased With Plan

Several people who board their horses at the center were pleased when they heard the department's recommendations.

"The center is significantly more expensive than other barns, but the reason it's worth the money is because there are several large enclosed paddocks out there where you can exercise and train horses," said Katherine Warwick.

Those facilities would be lost, she said, if the proposed 1,500-seat restaurant, jousting arena and Medieval Village were built.

Jay Jones, who has boarded two horses at the center since 1980, also applauded the department's recommendations. "It was supposed to be an equestrian center, not an entertainment center," Jones said.

According to the report, Garcia's company has lost $27 million since taking over the center's management in 1981. The company filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in 1984.

The only aspect of the reorganization plan that Hadaway's report favored was the construction of an equine hospital.

Although the report acknowledges that Garcia's "vision and dynamic determination to realize his vision" helped make the center into a world-class facility, it also recommended against "any further financial support" for the company.

"As caretakers of open parkland and providers of recreation facilities, the department cannot in good conscience" recommend selling 300 horse stalls, the report said.

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