A policy that could determine the future of horse stables at Palmer Park will be considered this month by the Colorado Springs City Council. Parks officials have, for the first time, written a policy on what conditions should determine whether private businesses can operate on public parklands.
The statement includes a three-part test designed to determine whether the businesses benefit a “broad spectrum” of the public. Seven such businesses operate now. Those include pro shops and restaurants at Patty Jewett and Valley Hi golf courses and restaurants at City Auditorium and Skyview Adult Sports Complex. The business that led to the drafting of the policy, though, is Mark Reyner Stables at Palmer Park. The company, which has existed on parkland for 51 years, boards horses and offers riding lessons and once gave trail rides through the park but stopped, citing expensive liability insurance. Parks and recreation director Paul Butcher has questioned whether owner Bob Harrison is profiting from the city without offering enough benefits. Harrison’s contract to operate at the park expires at the end of the year, and officials have said they won’t extend it automatically. Instead, Harrison — and other vendors — would have to prove the worthiness of their businesses once their contracts expire. The council will decide April 25 or 26 whether the policy written by staffers and amended slightly by the parks board Thursday is a fair way to evaluate such ventures. “We have to weigh the public benefit versus the private gain,” said grant writer Aimee Cox, who helped craft the policy. “It’s our intention to meet the needs of the broadest group of people.” The proposed policy has three criteria to determine which businesses should be allowed to operate on park lands: c It must be established that the business cannot effectively deliver services unless it is on public land; c The business must be available to a broad spectrum of people and enhance the park system; c There must be a demand for the service that will continue through the length of any contract, and the public must benefit. Butcher has seen a recent increase in proposals for such businesses, including plans for concession stands at Red Rock Canyon and a virtual baseball facility. Without a written policy to guide staffers in determining which ones belong on public land, the city could be accused of playing favorites, he said. If the policy is approved, the first case that would come before Butcher and his staff is that of the stables. Butcher has agreed to let the company continue operating through June 2006 so that Harrison can get a fair look under the new rules. About 35 people went to City Hall on Thursday to weigh in on the proposed policy — most were OK with it — and to tell the parks board that the stables meet the criteria. There were emotional appeals from Mark Reyner customers and nearby homeowners about opportunities the business affords to city residents. “It’s an inner-city stable. It’s for people who don’t have a lot of money,” said Tom Waugh, president of the adjacent Country Club Homeowners Association. “We can’t see a viable reason for the removal of those stables. It is a 50-year gem of our city.” Harrison pleaded for a quick decision from the city. He has lost boarders because of the uncertainty surrounding Mark Reyner’s future, and he will soon run into financial difficulties without a resolution, he said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0184 or email@example.com