CA aims to help horse center

10-year plan includes rate increases, ads to boost bottom line

April 28, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

In an effort to address continuing concerns about the Columbia Horse Center, the Columbia Association staff has designed a long-range plan to get the center on its financial feet.

Rob Goldman, the CA's vice president for membership services, presented the 10-year plan to the Columbia Council last week in response to that body's two main complaints: that the center loses money every year and that not enough Columbia residents use it.

The 88-acre horse center, on Gorman Road, offers lessons, camps and a therapeutic riding program for the disabled. It is expected to end the fiscal year more than $100,000 in the red.

More than half of those who use it do not live in Columbia.

The staff plan aims to improve the horse center's finances through rate increases, new programs and stepped-up marketing.

The center would break even beginning in fiscal 2006, Goldman said, with modest gains in the years after that.

Aggressive approach

Alex Hekimian, the council representative from Oakland Mills, who is retiring when his term expires at the end of this month, said he prefers a more aggressive approach.

"I'd like to see you do better than what fiscal year 2000 shows here," Hekimian said.

The horse center is expected to lose $94,000 in the fiscal year that begins Saturday.

Hekimian suggested increasing the differential between the fees charged residents and nonresidents.

"I think that's got to change," he said.

CA lien-payers pay a $3.50 subsidy each time someone uses the facility. According to CA estimates, the subsidy per use is $1.67 for the Columbia Ice Rink and $7.52 for the Fairway Hills Golf Course.

The proposed rate changes:

* Resident rates for riding lessons, camps and nonriding clinics -- new educational workshops that would begin immediately -- would increase 3 percent a year; nonresident rates, 6 percent.

* Resident and package plan rates for boarding horses would increase 1.5 percent; nonresident rates, 5 percent.

* Resident and nonresident rates for the therapeutic riding program would increase 2.5 percent.

* Resident and nonresident rates for horse shows would increase 3 percent.

During the 10-year period, the projected number of users of the horse center would increase from 35,000 to 42,000 annually. The number of residents using it would more than double, from 15,000 to nearly 31,000.

The CA would try to achieve those increases in part through a more aggressive marketing campaign, including direct mail, coupons distributed through the public schools and fliers posted at community facilities and neighborhood centers.

"Advertising is really something that needs to be brought into this," said Columbia resident and horse enthusiast Janet Anderson, whose daughter earns free riding lessons by working in the barn.

Horse center supporters offered another round of testimony at last week's council meeting on the benefits it brings the community.

Several offered to volunteer time and money to help it become financially self-sustaining.

"I think the numbers show it's back on its feet," Elizabeth Richards, a Columbia resident who has ridden professionally, told the 10-member council.

"It's not going to happen overnight."

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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