GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The City of Grants Pass will begin to negotiate the sale of a large piece of land known as the River Road Reserve to a local horse racing company, the City Council decided in a unanimous vote on Wednesday night.
Grants Pass acquired the 227-acre River Road Reserve Property in 2006, and the land has been zoned for "Exclusive Farm Use." Most recently, however, officials were approached by TMB Racing — a horse racing firm owned by Dutch Bros co-founder Travis Boersma — in regards to the large property.
"TMB has expressed interest in purchasing the property to build a year-round equine training facility," the City said in a statement.
City Councilors have said that they want to use the proceeds from a sale of the River Road Reserve "for the benefit of city residents" — and for the economic boost provided by a new horse training center.
“I am, and I believe everyone on the Council should be proud of what we did. My decision to go into negotiation to sell the property was weighted from the perspective on economic stimulation for our community,” said Councilor Clint Scherf.
The move toward selling the property has seen some opposition from Grants Pass residents. The group "Friends of River Road Reserve" has encouraged local citizens opposed to the sale to turn out to City Council meetings over the past several weeks — wondering about the fate of the annual Grants Pass Balloon & Kite Festival and crops grown by Fort Vannoy Farms, both of which take place in the Reserve.
The group posted on Wednesday night, voicing its disapproval of the Council's decision.
The City said that 19 people spoke in favor of the sale, while 21 spoke against. Due to the sheer amount of public turnout, the meeting dragged on into the evening hours.
“I appreciate one thousand percent all of the community outreach to us,” said Scherf. The City said that several councilors echoed Scherf's sentiment, applauding those who turned out to speak on both sides.
“Everyone was extremely respectful and very civil,” said Councilor Joel King.
“I’m very proud of this community and the way the process of participation was conducted,” said Council President Tyler Flaming. He reported favoring the sale because he saw the land as a resource — one that would be shunned if the situation was reversed.
“Imagine the response from the community we would receive if we were contemplating spending this kind of money to buy this land right now,” said Flaming. “It makes far better sense to use that money for the good of the community in other ways.”
Councilor Dennis Roler said that "very few people" got any benefit from the land after 13 years of ownership. It would be better to fix up Caveman Pool or some of the local parks, by his estimation. According to the City, there is roughly $700,000 worth of deferred park maintenance, and reports suggest that Caveman Pool needs almost $2 million in repairs.
While opponents argued that the City had once planned to turn the property into a park, Councilor Valerie Lovelace said that the public had been "misinformed," and there were significant hurdles in the way of developing the land as a park — due in large part, Lovelace said, to a mistake made by a past council.
“They were told not to put this property in the Park Plan because it is going to be way too difficult to make it into a park, but they chose to put in afterward,” said Lovelace.
Hearing testimony from the Oregon Horseman’s Benevolent & Protective Association, the councilors expressed their optimism about the economic boon that the horse racing industry could bring to the area.
“I think we can do something pretty magical out there. I think it can give people jobs. I think we can make an economic injection that’s substantial,” said Travis Boersma, head of both TMB Racing and Dutch Bros.
The City said that its staff will now enter negotiations with Boersma to work out terms of the sale. The sale itself won't occur without further public meetings of the council.