Expected lease extension would keep horse racing at Rillito through 2021

Updated: Jan. 11, 2017 at 4:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County is expected to extend a lease agreement next week which will continue horse racing at Rillito Park through 2021.

The Rillito Park Foundation has been asking for the extension since the county approved a short-term lease two years ago.

The foundation said it could not attract top-notch racing commitments and make improvements without a long-term lease.

It will receive a $1 million grant which was predicated on the lease agreement for needed improvements and repairs.

The agreement would end a nearly 15-year battle between horse racing and youth soccer for control of the northwest-side park.

In 2006, Pima County decided to end horse racing there and move it to the Pima County Fairgrounds.

In its place, it would build an 18-field soccer facility to accommodate national events.

But the move and the soccer project never happened because a bond package for the money was never approved, likely because of the Great Recession.

The two sides have been jockeying to be the major user of the facility ever since.

Now the county says there will be no dominant user - it will be multi-use.

"I think that is what the county is trying to create," said Richard Elias, Supervisor from District 5. "To create a 5-year plan to provide a road map so there is not so much fighting and infighting among the users there."

Horse racing enthusiasts believe if the extension is approved, it may be able to extend the number of days for racing and even add a Fall meet.

Soccer enthusiasts will try to make due with the 11 fields which have been built on the site.

"I think we will try to do the best we can to make this work," said Ted Schmidt, President of the Youth Soccer Academy. "I don't think we have any other choice."

At issue for soccer as well is the fields are used by several different youth sports such as rugby, lacrosse, football and even baseball. This means the fields suffer from overuse causing quality issues.

"There's really not much we can do about that unless we get more fields," Schmidt said. "Every field in our community is overused and abused."

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