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Horse racing to continue at Rillito Park

Pima Supervisors grant a four year lease
Posted at 6:29 PM, Jan 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-17 20:29:20-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The horses have at least four more years to run at Pima County's Rillito Park.
     
Pima County Supervisors approved a new lease for the park operators--  that will give them at least four more racing seasons after the season that's about to begin.
 
Pima County is balancing the historic horse track, with the growing demand for soccer fields.
 
Quarter horses have run at Rillito Downs for more than 70 years. 
       
But the future of racing here has been in doubt as demand grew to use the choice location for fast growing sports like soccer.  Part of the park already holds eleven fields.
 
Part of the problem is this old grandstand and concessions building needs a lot of work.  Some of it is serious structural work.  Some of it is as simple as fixing old paint.
     
Pima County owns Rillito Park but leases it to the Rillito Park Foundation.  The foundation makes the park multi-use but wants to preserve horse racing.
 
With the foundation's lease about to expire, a long list of speakers urged County supervisors to renew the lease for four years.
       
All the Supervisors agreed to a new deal that also calls for the foundation to put a million dollars into renovations.  Foundation leaders like Russell True say they'll balance other activities, with racing part of the year.
 
“We always understood if you made it one against the other there was going to be a loser.  And if the concept was events, soccer, horse racing, farmers markets, the Jelks property being restored then everybody won.  It was really what a public park should be."
       
Ted Schmidt of the Pima County Junior Soccer League says their ideal would have been to move horse racing to a new track and use the land to help serve the demand for soccer fields.
 
“But we recognize the economic realities are there's no money to do that today and we never wanted to kill horse racing so if the only option is to keep it at Rillito for the time being, for another four years then so be it."
And soccer boosters hope to see some enhancements like more lights to make Rillito Park a better place to play soccer.