Horse association, MetroParks may revisit facility lease


By JESSICA HARDIN

jhardin@vindy.com

CANFIELD

Buckeye Horse Park Association and Mill Creek MetroParks may have the opportunity to renegotiate a lease for the park’s equestrian facility after a heated discussion at Monday’s well-attended board of commissioners meeting. 

Since 1994, BHPA has leased a portion of Vickers Nature Preserve to provide horse riding trails and equestrian competition opportunities. Its lease, which included a 25 year renewal option, expired in February. The association did not renew the agreement before its expiration, and attempts to renegotiate the lease failed. 

The meeting ended with both groups agreeing to schedule a meeting between their organizations’ lawyers. 

“I think MetroPark’s legal counsel and horse park legal counsel obviously need to get together to talk about the positions of both sides and to see if there is any compromise amongst those positions. We’ve gotten to this point pretty much because of a stalemate,” Metroparks Executive Director Aaron Young said. 

Dozens of local horse enthusiasts attended Monday’s meeting to lament the end of the association’s agreement with the park. 

Specifically, they voice the concern that the park does not have the expertise to maintain the facility. 

“If you separate yourself from BHPA, you are going to be losing one of the biggest assets Mill Creek Park has ever known. I have the blisters to prove it. I have groomed those trails with a rake. You can’t just send a crew out there not knowing what to look for,” said Diane Byers. 

The evening’s discussion also shed light on the failed negotiating process.

An attorney representing the association highlighted the aspects of the proposed agreement that caused negotiations to unravel.

The new lease included a provision that “gave Mill Creek Park the unfettered discretion without notice or without any reason to terminate equine activities at the park,” said BHPA’s legal counsel Darrell Markijohn.

“That’s a poison pill ... That’s not a lease. Basically, this is an agreement as to how the relationship’s gonna work when it works. As soon as it doesn’t work, they can throw you off,” Markijohn said. 

This language has sparked concern about Mill Creek’s plan for the property. “It sounds like you want horses off the property,” said Kim Walter.

The second sticking point was the prohibition of overnight stays at the park. 

Previously on competition weekends, BHPA had appointed individuals to act as security for horses that stayed in overnight stables.  

Overnight stabling is a necessity, several crowd members explained. 

“As you’re unloading horses, they can get a little spooky. Can you imagine trying to load or unload 100 horses Saturday morning before dawn?” asked Bill Pintaric.  

Board members noted that overnight stays are regulated by the board of health and are prohibited. So, the park’s rules and regulations prohibit overnight stays “except in connection with Park District programs with permission from the Executive Director.”

Young “has the authority to allow it to happen. He has the ability to change it,” said Markijohn.

The original lease included provisions of concern to BHPA, including: “Any monies now so utilized or programmed for utilization within a reasonable time, shall be paid to Lessor at the end of every fifth year of this lease.”

“One could argue it’s not in the financial interest of the MetroParks to lease that facility at the financial rate that it was previously being leased,” Young said. 

In 2018, BHPA paid $3,600 to lease the facility. 

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