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May 14, 2014

Virginia Horse Center Faces Funding Woes

The Virginia Horse Center needs $4 million to make repairs and improvements in addition to money to pay back the purchase loan. Photo by Lauren Sprieser.

The Virginia Horse Center in Lexington is facing an uphill battle as the Board seeks not only $4 million for repairs and improvements, but they’re also still working to pay off the $11.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan used to purchase the facility from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2007.

While 2 percentage points of the area’s 6 percent lodging tax are directed towards the center’s debt, it only covers roughly $500,000 of the $605,000 needed for the yearly loan payment. In response, the Board began the process of asking Rockbridge County and the city of Lexington to approve a 1 percent increase to help cover the difference in November.  

“Once we get approval on those items we will then jump into the long-term plan, which is to take a long, hard look at the USDA-loan and find out what we can do,” said Glenn Petty, who took over as interim executive director after Katherine Truitt retired on May 2.

“The problem hanging over our head is that the Horse Center is 28 years old,” Petty said. “It’s a wonderful facility, but it needs a lot of deferred maintenance. That’s what we are looking down the road at: How do we start raising the funds?

“We’re obviously focused on safety, so we have to figure that stuff out,” he continued. “You start having pipes break and stuff like that; it just happens. If you have an old house, and you don’t keep it up, all of a sudden you look up, and you’ve got a whole lot of work to do.”

Petty and new President of the Board Ernest Oare have asked John Nicholson, former executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, to join them as a consultant.

“My plan is to help the Virginia Horse Center address some of the challenges that have been identified,” Nicholson said. “To chart a course for the future that will allow it to continue to be one of North America’s major equestrian facilities as well as a major economic contributor to Virginia and its horse industry.”

Nicholson met with the board for the first time on May 7.

 “I’m really impressed with the energy that is being devoted to this,” he said. “Everyone is really excited, and now you’re getting to feel a real wave of optimism.”