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Blenheim action at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan. (Amy McCool photo)

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Two business groups with different visions for the 40-acre Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park made respective public presentations Sept. 21 to the City Council, as ongoing discussions continued toward the beautiful facility’s future.

As part of the 2017 settlement of an Orange County Coastkeeper lawsuit against the city and current park operator Blenheim Facility Management, millions in improvements need to be completed at the property to satisfy concerns of contaminated water from running off into the nearby San Juan Creek.

City officials reportedly have committed to paying more than $2 million for work not related to animal uses. But another approximately $7 million in other improvements would need to be addressed by the future tenant if horses are part of their plan. In July, bidders submitted proposals to the city with their plans for the park, including two firms that are applicants being considered for long-term uses at the park.

Robert Ridland, managing director of The Ridland Group and an executive with the Blenheim Facility Management that operates the park, is also a competitive equestrian coach and recently helped guide the U.S. show jumping team to a silver medal at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. Frontier Real Estate Investments is headed up by Dan Almquist, a local developer and resident who is behind the upcoming River Street Marketplace and owns Capistrano Plaza, which houses the new Ramen Shack restaurant.

Plans from both groups include equestrian and non-equestrian uses. The park is a popular spot for horse riding activities, including Grand Prix competitions and other events. It has also been the site of non-horse events, such as the music festival MissionFest. The proposals have drawn a lot of attention in the community.

Longtime local equestrian advocate Shelly Barker favors Ridland’s ongoing management.

“They are experts at large-scale competition horse events and have proven themselves to be a viable and integral partner with our city,” Barker said. “Their plan will assist some local needs, including equestrian events — English or Western — and benefit our equestrian stables and residents.”

Ridland said their goal is to provide something for everyone and that funding for the environmental mitigation is a “done deal” through a financial partner. Almquist, who is partnering with local equestrian Kathy Holman for his plans, said the current use of the park is “extremely exclusive” and “caters to only a privileged few.” Frontier Real Estate Investment’s proposal includes plans to expand the schedule of English riding events to cater to local trainers and riders.

A vote to select either Ridland or Almquist was not scheduled for the Sept. 21 meeting, as the presentations were merely to introduce respective plans to councilmembers and the public.

“There’s more information I need to know before I can make a decision,” Mayor Pro Tem Derek Reeve said. “I think there’s been a lot of questions answered tonight, but I also have more questions.”

City staff will further analyze the proposals based on community feedback and questions, and return at a future council meeting. “We have a lot of work to do,” Mayor John Taylor said.

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