Lake Oswego leaders consider ways to save the urban arena and equestrian facility on Iron Mountain Boulevard
As Lake Oswego Hunt approaches its 75th anniversary, the nonprofit equestrian center's directors are looking for a way to stay solvent for another seven decades.
The result of the conversation could be the hunt club picking up and moving and new houses sprouting in its place, or a new public facility akin to Lake Oswego's beloved Luscher Farm.
'As we approach our 75th anniversary, and we continue to struggle with restrictions and finances, we've got to figure out how we can partner better with the community and the city so we can be more financially viable, so we can remain here,' said Janice Weis, president of the Lake Oswego Hunt board of directors.
The city of Lake Oswego has a horse in this race.
A few years back, when hunt club members considered selling the site and moving to a larger rural location with fewer development restrictions, a public outcry ensued. Some residents feared private developers would build a hundred houses in the largely wide-open natural area; others worried about potential destruction of the hunt club's historic arena and stables.
Board members shelved the idea.
But today, Lake Oswego Hunt leaders are still struggling to pay for upkeep of the property's historic barn and to deal with a wetland on the site.
As a result, city officials are entertaining the idea of entering into a public-private partnership with Lake Oswego Hunt. The city council recently directed staff members to analyze the property and bring back more information, such as the property's relationship to the overall parks system and links to natural resources and water quality.
Hunt club members are giving the city until late summer or early fall to show some sign of interest in helping to keep the facility at its present location.
Weis said the club would rather not sell the 19-acre site to a real estate developer.
'We would like to avoid that, but as a board we have the responsibility to do prudent fiscal management,' she said. 'Barns don't make a whole lot of money in the first place.'
Unique challenges drive need for change
When it comes to horse facilities, you could call Lake Oswego Hunt an equestrian operation of a different color.
While most big barns are outside city limits, the hunt club sits in an unexpected countryside setting in the heart of Lake Oswego.
At 2725 Iron Mountain Blvd., the urban site contains a historic wooden arena, the largest and oldest of its kind west of the Mississippi. A portion of the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But those unique qualities also make the Lake Oswego Hunt, a working riding and horse-boarding facility, a challenge to run.
Maintaining the historic grounds comes with added costs. A wetland on the site and city rules present additional challenges.
'As a historic site, we're rare in that we are a revenue-generating business,' said Teri LeVine, a Lake Oswego Hunt board member. 'Usually you'd pay to tour places like this. But we're running a business with events and a riding school.'
Environmental protections also take a toll.
Over the course of a year, the center collects tons upon tons of manure, which is then trucked out elsewhere rather than spread over the pasture area because of government regulations. The haul-away cost: $26,000 a year.
'In most barns, in rural areas, the manure would be piled up on the property,' LeVine said. 'Our manure has to be collected in a steel trailer, and we cannot use it to spread on our fields, because of water quality issues.'
Hunt leaders, hoping the city will help relieve some of the burden, see a potential partnership as an 'amazing opportunity' and 'a made-in-heaven arrangement.'
They say the club's presence is a boon for the city, in part thanks to the economic activity spurred by equestrian enthusiasts who travel to the arena for shows.
The club's membership of about 30 people may seem small, but its programs are open to the public, with 60 to 80 people in the riding school at any time and another 15 to 20 taking lessons. The club also offers boarding services, and the 10 to 16 shows its hosts each year draw 3,000 to 5,000 exhibitors and spectators annually.
People come from all over not only for shows but to use the cross-country course and jumps behind the arena, board members said.
Board vice president Julia Wood said a variety of business arrangements could help the center achieve success, but the top two involve the city buying a pond and wetland at the east end of the site, or buying the entire property and then leasing it back to the club to create an expanded equestrian park.
City-owned Iron Mountain Park surrounds the hunt club property on three sides, including the pond and wetland area.
'We want to maximize our business capability but maintain the rural nature of the place,' Wood said.
In the end, she said, the Luscher Farm properties, owned by Lake Oswego but located outside of city limits, could be a model for the equestrian center's future use.
Hunt club board members envision a park space with horse and pedestrian trails linking to other city paths, as well as space for other park amenities, maybe an off-leash dog area, places to hold special events and maybe even a renewable energy project.
They would also continue offering the events they do now, many of which are open to the public and often free for community members to watch.
'Our vision is reorienting ourselves to be more of a public facility,' Wood said. 'We want to stay, but we also want to stay alive as an organization.
'We have to change. We want to hear what the community wants and the community cares about.'
Check out Lake Oswego Hunt at www.lakeoswegohunt.com .