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May 14, 2014 8:53 PM by Lauren Reimer

Two groups vying for Rillito Race Track lease

TUCSON - Another prospective player has entered the race to try and earn the lease for the Rillito Racetrack. The current lease to the park expired earlier this month, meaning the time is drawing near for Pima County leaders to make a final decision.

The Pima County Horsemen's Association has been running the races at the Rillito for the last 26 years. Its dynasty is threatened now that the Rillito Park Foundation wants in on the action.

This is the first time there has ever been two parties interested in holding the lease.

"We're very much interested in running the racing because we think we can do a better job," says Walter Rogers, Rillito Park Foundation Director.

The Rillito Park Foundation wants to upgrade the grandstands, double the length of the racing season, add more soccer fields, and even create a permanent farmers market.

But the previous leaseholder, the Pima County Horsemen's Association has plans of its own to maintain the park. They plan to move the horse stalls on the east end of the park, and build 3 more soccer fields, bringing the total up to 11.

Current track superintendent Mark White worries any more changes would destroy the track's long history.

"That's what people come to see is the 50s and 60s look. And we have great crowds here and everybody comes and they enjoy the heck out of it," says White.

Even though the two groups' plans overlap at times, they show few signs of cooperation.

"It hasn't been something that's been worked out so far," says Rogers.

County leaders could make a decision on whom to lease the racing rights to as soon as next week.

No matter who is chosen, Pima County already has a $5 million bond project it will use to create new soccer fields at the location.

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