Lynn Spruill: Bricklee and the Horse Park

April 11, 2014 10:32:15 AM

Lynn Spruill -

 

Sounds like a cool little novel title like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone or maybe Nancy Drew and the Crooked Banister. Though Bricklee Miller may not have the financial impact that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter does, or the international name recognition of Nancy Drew, she definitely has the magic touch for the Golden Triangle.  

 

Bricklee Miller is the executive director of the Mississippi Horse Park located on Poorhouse Road in Oktibbeha County, a collaboration between the City of Starkville, Oktibbeha County and Mississippi State University. She has been in charge of the Horse Park almost from its inception and therefore deserving of any and all credit for its remarkable success. This is yet another example of the benefit a collaborative project for our region can achieve. 

 

When I had the great good fortune to be the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Starkville, I got to schedule Bricklee on the Board agenda to make her annual presentation on the financial, scheduling and physical status of the Horse Park. By Board order presentations are allowed 10 minutes to present their information. You could always count on Bricklee to go over her allotted time, but you also knew that no one, except perhaps Alderman Perkins, minded that little break with policy. She entertained as well as informed and at the end she usually got a solid round of applause.  

 

Bricklee's presentations are always excellent. They are full of relevant information and pictorial documentation of what value the Horse Park has brought and is bringing to our community and our region. Her statistics are generated using a proven methodology and they show how much her Horse Park baby brings home. The annual economic impact estimate is $1.8 million. All of that for a measly $50,000 this year from the City.  

 

The national renown of the Mississippi Horse Park has brought continued growth of tourism to the region. It is a rare weekend you don't see horse trailers or RVs on our streets headed in for an event or leaving from having participated. They have sold out several events this year already. These events bring direct dollars to our merchants and our community.  

 

Her visitors fill our hotels and eat at our restaurants. They bring their money and give a percentage of it to us. With someone else's money we finance our parks, pave our roads, fund economic development projects, help MSU student affairs and support even more special events. The sales tax generated is much like grant money. It comes partly from residents, but much of it is a gift from strangers.  

 

There are a number of activities that help promote tourism and bring sales tax dollars to our region, but there is no activity aside from the University athletic program that exceeds the impact of the Horse Park for regularly and consistently sending money to the City of Starkville and the other entities that receive these sales tax dollars.  

 

Every year Bricklee details for the County and the City all the reasons that her charge should get the funding that will allow her to keep moving forward. Every year it seems to be more and more difficult for her to get the recognition for what it takes to make it happen. Though they all know the Horse Park cannot be directly self-sustaining, the City and County continue to reduce the funding so critical to its success. If we don't support the Horse Park so that Bricklee can keep it as a quality destination then we are bound to fall from grace much as our park system has done as it ages and is unable to maintain a quality that brings in major tournaments and premium activities.  

 

It is important to note that there is not a horse park that I could find that does not receive funds from some entity. Does that mean because there is no financial model providing a self sustaining horse park we should abandon it? Of course not. The Kentucky Horse park gets funding from the State of Kentucky; the Florida Horse Park from the state of Florida and on and on.  

 

Mississippi Horse Park has become a recognized event location for the southeast. Bricklee has succeeded in pulling in contestants from around the lower 48 states for events here in Mississippi. She can't keep doing that if we don't reinvest in the asset for maintenance and improvements.  

 

If any entity deserves the financial support of the community it is a joint project that brings in sales tax dollars from visitors to help us maintain and build our city and county. There are very few resources of a public agency that do actually make money. It is unfathomable not to reinvest in one that clearly does.