The Future of Rillito Park

The RPF Master Plan calls for preserving the landmark structures, expanding the existing facility for multi-use attractions, and managing operations for the future. For 2014, RPF is developing the following:

Rillito – Built in 1943, Rillito is recognized as the birthplace of Quarter Horse racing. It was the first to have the ‘chute’ straightaway, and the photo-finish electric timer. Rillito is still operated during an eight-weekend season. However, Pima County plans to demolish this historic structure to make way for future soccer fields – in the absence of an economically viable plan. They cite the need for $2.5 to $3.0 million in structural and ADA improvements to continue racing – a range verified by independent consultants to RPF.

RPF proposes managing the track on a year-round basis; however, with only a modest extension of the racing season. An annual operating agreement with Pima County would permit simulcast wagering at off-track betting (OTB) facilities year-round. As the OTB network grows, revenue will increase significantly providing the source for the renovations required. Rillito could also host larger non-racing regional and national events attracted by enhanced marketing efforts.

J. Rukin Jelks Stud Farm – The Jelks Stud Farm is an authentic architectural jewel. In the spring of 2013, RPF leased the property from Pima County with a plan to renovate the house and gardens to serve as an historic site and event venue. Renovations are underway. The demand for a venue of this caliber, combined with its premier location, ensures that the Jelks Stud Farm can generate revenue to cover future operations and maintenance immediately after construction is complete.

Plans are in progress for The Arizona Exhibition Series with the Arizona Historical Society and Visit Tucson, the Metropolitan Visitors Bureau, among others. The exhibitions will be hosted by area museums, but advertised through ‘one-voice’ marketing in a campaign to boost Pima County tourism. Exhibitions under development are: George Catlin: The Buffalo and the Indian, Patton and Pancho: The Mexican Punitive Expedition, and Carlota: Empress of Mexico.

The Arizona Exhibition Series supports RPF’s longer-term plans for the Jelks Stud Farm as the site of a unique museum/hotel concept. The Museum of the Western Horse and Rider would serve as a publicly accessible heritage museum, supported by privately managed on-site lodging.

Rillito Curb Market – The RPF Master Plan adds an area in the Park dedicated to farmers’ markets, food trucks, car shows, and other suitable events. Positioned on the southern edge of the Park, the proximity of The Loop pedestrian and bike path will attract neighbors while providing adequate parking for those coming across town.

Rillito Field Sport Facility – The growing popularity of soccer clubs has strained the availability of the Park’s fields, while creating unmanageable wear and tear. The County has committed $5.2 million toward Park improvements that call for relocating the existing horse barns to add three additional fields. RPF supports the County’s action, as more fields are clearly needed; however, the County’s current budget does not allow for proper care of the fields. RPF proposes providing a portion of revenue from Rillito Park operations to assist Pima County Parks and Recreation with costs directly related to field maintenance.

The Rillito Park Foundation believes the strategy and tactics proposed allow for improvements to be made to Rillito Park in a shorter time frame, with expanded constituencies, and generate revenue that can sustain the Park efficiently. Through a public/private partnership with Pima County Government, the Rillito Park Foundation believes the future of Rillito Park will be bright.

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