By Bud Foster – email
TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - The Rillito Downs race track has been the home of horse racing in Pima County since 1943. But that long run may be coming to an end.
It's been no secret Pima County officials have been looking for ways to close the track and replace it with 18 soccer fields.
"The race track has been on life support for 10-20 years," says Lonny Powell, a member of the Arizona Department of Racing.
The track runs races only 12 days a year but it takes up the space for nearly three months.
For that, the non-profit pays $3,875 in rent.
But that's likely to go up considerably.
"Horse racing has been paying less than 10% a day of what Spring Fling has been paying for the same facility," says Gary Davidson, a member of the Pima County Parks and Recreation Department Commission.
The Pima County Horseman's Association has a three year lease which runs through 2011. But the county wants to rewrite the lease at a much higher figure.
"It would go up a lot but how much I don't know yet." says Davidson.
The current proposals on the table run from about $21,000 to $150,000.
The Horseman's Association says that's way too much.
About 40 supporters of horse racing attended a public hearing on the issue at the Parks and Rec offices on River Road.
"It's simply the latest plot to destroy horse racing in Pima County and Southern Arizona," association vice president Patti Shirley, told the crowd. "I say, we cannot allow that to happen."
While the horse racing crowd has struggled to keep things afloat for the past two decades, this might be the one that gets them out of Rillito Downs, fulfilling Shirley's prophesy..
"I think many people are afraid, one year down means forever down,"says Powell.
County officials say it's not against horse racing and has never voted to end it.
They're on record as saying they'd like to move it to the Pima County Fairgrounds on the Southeast side.
But that would take money.
"Somewhere between $15 and $30 million," says Powell.
The only way to raise that kind of money would be through a bond election and that does not appear to be on the horizon for several years.
Horse racing draws about 10,000 people every weekend it runs.
"In 2009-2010, the Rillito Downs Racetrack drew more attendance that either the Tucson golf tournament of the Tucson rodeo," says Ed Moore, who has been fighting for three decades to keep horse racing at Rillito.
The final decision on how much to charge is up to the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
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