Horse arena project loses promised funding
March 27, 2009 · 2:30 PM
Equestrians on Vashon won't have a covered riding arena any time soon, after former Islander Tom Stewart informed the group last month that he won't pony up the $220,000 he'd promised to the project several years ago.
Horse lovers have been working for years to construct a covered arena at Paradise Ridge Park. They've raised money bit by bit — holding benefit dinners, earmarking a portion of money collected in horse show fees and receiving generous donations from community members, until they had raised $220,000 to match Stewart's pledge.
But the massive blow to the budget of the construction project — which had been scheduled to break ground within months — means the arena's design and scale will need to be rethought, said Carol Friend, Vashon-Maury Island Horse Association president. She added that it's possible the money Islanders have raised could be enough for a smaller covered arena, even without Stewart's hefty contribution.
"It's not the end of the road, but it's a big disappointment, because I had really thought (Stewart) was going to come through for us," Friend said. "If he truly is not going to partner with us on this, then we need to make a new plan."
The poor economy was the driving force behind Stewart's refusal to contribute to the project's budget, said Steven Twist, general counsel to Stewart, a beef and food services magnate who owns Vashon's Misty Isle Farm but now lives in Arizona.
"The circumstances in the economy have changed significantly since the letter of agreement was signed," said Twist from Scottsdale, Ariz., the corporate office location of Stewart's company, Food Services of America. "I know Tom has really strong feeling for the success of everyone there, but unfortunately the economy is a great challenge right now."
While Friend and Twist agreed that organizers and designers of the horse arena had held up their half of the bargain under the agreement made between Stewart and the Island horse community, Twist said they didn't do so quick enough.
"It didn't happen within the time limits," he said. "It's really unfortunate."
Friend said Stewart indicated in a letter sent in February that in order for him to donate $220,000 to the arena effort, the construction should have begun in 2007.
"Since we entered the agreement with him, we had fulfilled all our obligations, and it was not as soon as we'd hoped, but the permitting took far longer than any of us could have dreamed," Friend said. "Now we have to discuss all the alternatives."
Unfortunately, Friend said, Stewart didn't inform those spearheading the campaign to have a roof put over an existing arena at the equestrian park that he wouldn't chip in until they'd gotten every detail of the project in place — all the permits, the designs and the construction budget.
Friend and others from the horse association wrote Stewart a letter in March asking him to reconsider his decision. They asked that he reply by April 1.
"We're still hoping we'll get some response from him by April 1, but if not, we'll just go on without him," Friend said.