Business plan has Kentucky Horse Park on right financial track

new events, food service bring cash to kentucky Horse park

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMay 13, 2013 

  • Horse park revenue

    $725,000 above projections

    Nine months into the park's business plan, revenue is running well ahead of projections and is up significantly over the same point in previous years. The surge has been boosted by ...

    Equine events revenue

    $1,685,719

    Revenue from horse events is up more than $115,000 over this point in fiscal year 2012, and almost $370,000 ahead of projections, in part thanks to new events such as the Road to the Horse, which netted the park almost $60,000.

    Food service revenue

    $1,551,967

    The big winner. With the Kentucky Horse Park taking over food and alcohol sales this year, revenue from this source has soared. Sales are up almost $629,000 over last year and running more than $403,000 over projections already this year.

    Non-equine events

    $234,644

    Events such as the annual Bluegrass Classic Dog Show are growing now that they have moved into the Alltech Arena, and other events like the state wrestling championships and charity galas are finding their way to the park, too. Already, revenue from this is up more than $70,000 over last year.

Arena football? Cheerleading championships? Ichthus?

The Kentucky Horse Park isn't just for horses anymore. Already it has added charity galas, the state wrestling finals and more to its ever-expanding schedule of events, with new events on the way in 2014.

Next year may see the addition of five to seven arena football games, possibly the state cheerleading championships coming to Alltech Arena, and perhaps even a reinvigorated Ichthus music festival centered around the campground.

And that's a good thing, say horse park officials, because the new uses will boost the bottom line.

This fiscal year, the first under a new business plan put in place to address lawmakers' concerns, already looks to finish in June well above estimated projections, in part thanks to new events that have nothing to do with horses.

But the Kentucky Horse Park hasn't moved too far away from its base: one of the biggest new money makers this year was the Road to the Horse, which brought 6,000 primarily out-of-state guests to the park for a "horse whisperer" contest that likely will anchor the winter schedule for years to come.

That one event netted the park almost $60,000 in new money, said Michael Scales, deputy executive director of the Horse Park.

Through March, the Horse Park is running almost $725,000 ahead of Scales' projected revenue.

If the trend continues as expected, the Horse Park will finish the fiscal year up about $842,450, instead of the $128,000 expected from the business plan.

"It's a significant amount," said John Nicholson, Horse Park director. "This is the first year of the biennium, and the second year was the tighter year. For the second year, we were projected to have about $19,800 left; But now it looks more like $733,950 left."

Nicholson said that the big gains have a lot of "ifs:" one bad weather month or canceled horse show could throw everything into a tizzy.

"We don't want to get euphoric but it's moving in the right direction," Nicholson said.

While the park has seen increased revenue from both equine and non-equine events in the last nine months, the biggest driver of their improved financial situation is food service.

In last few years, the park has taken over food service, rather than contracting it to long-time catering vendor Lundy's. And revenue from food service, which includes alcohol sales, has gone through the roof: revenue has jumped from $214,154 in 2010 to almost $2 million expected by the end of June.

Already in the first nine months, food and alcohol sales were up more than $400,000 over projections.

"This is the first full year of the Horse Park operating our own food service and we've been very pleased. Guests and clients both say it has been very successful," Nicholson said.

Since the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games business — both equine and non-equine — has picked up considerably at the park.

While non-equine rental isn't as lucrative on the face of it because no stalls are rented, it can make up for that on the back end with higher food and drink concessions now.

But the park isn't resting on its successes. Nicholson said they are pursuing sponsors and hope to sell naming rights for more park facilities such as the covered arena and even the water trucks and signage in the Hall of Champions.

The naming rights from the Alltech Arena and the Rolex Stadium continue to generate a trickle of annual revenue and the park would like to grow that into a more consistent stream.

Because as well as they are doing, they still need a subsidy from the state, at least for now.

If that ever should stop, Nicholson said, the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, a private non-profit foundation that pays for many expenses at the park, wants to be prepared. To continue operations without state financing, Nicholson said the foundation would need to increase its endowment from less than $3 million now to about $35 million.

"Our goal for the Kentucky Horse Park has always been for it to be self sufficient," said Marcheta Sparrow, secretary of Tourism, Arts and Heritage, in a statement. "Current indications are that we are making good progress. However, there are a number of factors involved, so I cannot speculate as to when this may happen."

The new business plan lays out a way to gain self-sufficiency by 2020, as requested by lawmakers, but it is contingent on revenue growth from three areas: from a hotel, from an expanded campground, and possibly from a piece of an increased transient or hotel tax that Lexington charges visitors.

That tax is used to support Lexington's Civic Center and the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, because they help generate hotel nights and other economic activity.

"The Horse Park has now become a second convention center," Nicholson said. "Why shouldn't we participate in the transient tax, since we are filling so many hotel rooms?"

At the last minute of the 2012 legislative session, Gov. Steve Beshear asked for language that would have allowed Lexington to levy an additional 1 percent hotel-motel tax and give the park and other local projects the revenue. It passed as an amendment to an unrelated bill but due to a technical glitch, time ran out to "enroll" the bill, so the governor couldn't sign it.

The issue is likely to resurface, but it is unclear if Mayor Jim Gray and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council will impose the tax.

"We're glad to hear the Horse Park's budget is improving in the short-term," said Susan Straub, spokesman for Gray. "The mayor recognizes the importance of the park to the local economy and is open to working with the Horse Park and the Urban County Council to explore options for local support to meet long-term needs. But before any decision is made, we need to hear from the public and from any stakeholders."

According to the Horse Park's 2012 business plan, the park could receive about $1.3 million from a dedicated bed tax, if the council passed it.

The park also is working to expand its existing camping facilities within the park, Nicholson said. A $6.8 million expansion that would include 100 new campsites, two new bath houses and a new store could be finished by summer 2015 and generating $295,000 in new net revenue, according to the park's 2012 business plan. The park would have to request the additional funding before the next biennium, Nicholson said, to finish in time.

Eventually the park also hopes to build the hotel that was proposed before the World Equestrian Games but has been tied up in the courts. If the hotel is finished by July 2015, the park could receive another $300,000 in payments in fiscal year 2016.

In the meantime, the park is working on ways to draw visitors to the park and not just for big events like the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Revenue from park admission and the gift shop are two of the few areas showing a decline year over year. To get more Kentuckians to come out, the Horse Park is hoping to implement a lower-priced option in 2014 for locals.

"In general, the growth part of that is 'events,'" such as the Chinese and British art exhibits in 2001 and 2004, Nicholson said. So the park is planning a new approach to events next year: year-long themed exhibits (such as "cowboys" or "draft horses," both of which are on the short list under consideration) in the museum coordinated throughout the horses in the park, Nicholson said.

"We want every summer to be a little bit different," Nicholson said.

But he's already thinking down the road on revenue: "We hope to tie a couple of themes to sponsors," Nicholson said.


Equine events revenue

$1,685,719

Revenue from horse events is up more than $115,000 over this point in fiscal year 2012, and almost $370,000 ahead of projections, in part thanks to new events such as the Road to the Horse, which netted the park almost $60,000.

Food service revenue

$1,551,967

The big winner. With the Kentucky Horse Park taking over food and alcohol sales this year, revenue from this source has soared. Sales are up almost $629,000 over last year and running more than $403,000 over projections already this year.

Non-equine events

$234,644

Events such as the annual Bluegrass Classic Dog Show are growing now that they have moved into the Alltech Arena, and other events like the state wrestling championships and charity galas are finding their way to the park, too. Already, revenue from this is up more than $70,000 over last year.


Horse park revenue

$725,000 above projections

Nine months into the park's business plan, revenue is running well ahead of projections and is up significantly over the same point in previous years. The surge has been boosted by ...Equine events revenue

$1,685,719

Revenue from horse events is up more than $115,000 over this point in fiscal year 2012, and almost $370,000 ahead of projections, in part thanks to new events such as the Road to the Horse, which netted the park almost $60,000.

Food service revenue

$1,551,967

The big winner. With the Kentucky Horse Park taking over food and alcohol sales this year, revenue from this source has soared. Sales are up almost $629,000 over last year and running more than $400,000 over projections already this year.

Non-equine events

$234,644

Events such as the annual Bluegrass Classic Dog Show are growing now that they have moved into the Alltech Arena, and other events like the state wrestling championships and charity galas are finding their way to the park, too. Already, revenue from this is up more than $70,000 over last year.


"The Horse Park has now become a second convention center."

John Nicholson, Kentucky Horse Park director

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl

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