The future of carriage rides in Old Town Scottsdale is once again in question after the city denied a local operator’s request to continue using the outdoor portion of the Noriega Livery Stable.
Teri Todd, owner of Scottsdale Horse and Carriage, contends that without the use of the stable for storage and staging, she would not be able to operate downtown because the cost to truck in her carriages every week would not be offset by the money she makes through paid rides.
The city responded by stating that Todd – and any other company – is free to operate private carriage rides downtown but the city is no longer interested in subsidizing the service, either through a contract or rent-free use of the stable.
The city pegged the value of the outdoor storage space at approximately $13,000 per year or $1,080 per month.
“The city is not concerned about horses and carriages operating in Old Town,” Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell said. “The issue is whether or not the city should be subsidizing that service.”
Todd has operated a city-branded stagecoach downtown for over a decade as a city contractor.
That contract provided her with payment of up to $14,000 per year and use of the outside of the city-owned livery stable at 2nd Street and Brown Avenue and required her to provide free rides during Thursday night Art Walks from November to April and on Friday and Saturday afternoons from January through March.
During that time, she also operated a for-profit carriage service using the stable, which the city permitted under the contract.
However, the city notified Todd in September that it would be canceling her contract and she had to vacate the stable by the end of the year. Todd asked the City Council on Sept. 11 to reverse city staff’s decision.
The Council directed the City Manager’s office to investigate the issue further.
But the City was already in negotiations with the Parada del Sol Rodeo to put a rodeo museum in the livery stable, though both officials and Rodeo General Manager Dave Alford said the museum was not related to the city’s decision to cancel Todd’s contract.
The museum will only occupy the inside of the livery building, not the outdoor storage area.
On Nov. 1, the city officially terminated Todd’s ability to use the outdoor space.
She made a second appeal to Council on Nov. 13 that was denied outright.
Following the cancellation of her contract with the city, local developer Carter Unger stepped in and offered Todd a sponsorship opportunity to keep her service running through December.
Unger has a marketing contract with the city for WestWorld and offered to pay Todd out of his marketing budget in exchange for including WestWorld signage and other materials in her carriages.
At the time, Unger and Todd hoped the agreement would give Todd enough time and financial security to come to terms with the city over the use of the stable.
That did not come to pass, though Unger is still committed to paying Todd through the end of the year and Todd said she will hold up her end of the deal and provide rides on Saturdays through December.
“I’m willing to do what I can from financial standpoint but at the end of the day it is coming down to logistics,” Unger said.
What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
Vows to keep fighting
Todd vowed to keep fighting to keep her carriages at the livery, though it appears she has no avenues left to appeal.
“This is my Alamo,” she said.
Todd took issue with some of the specifics included in the city’s denial of her initial appeal.
The City Manager’s Office stated that Scottsdale Tourism and Events Director Karen Churchard notified Todd on Aug. 8 that the city was considering not renewing her contract and that two days later, Downtown Specialist Jackie Contaldo told Todd renewal was not an option.
The City also said staff internally discussed canceling the contract last December, though it is unclear if those plans were shared with Todd at a meeting with her that month.
Todd contends she did not know she would have to vacate the stable until she received a letter from Churchard on Sept. 7.
At a meeting in December, the city extended Todd’s contract through June 2018, decreased her commitment to provide free rides from three days to two days and increased her rate for Saturdays from $350 to $500 per shift.
The city said the raise and extension were accommodated, because Todd had recently renewed her city-required insurance for $7,500.
However, Todd, who said she had no idea the city was considering cancellation at that time, said the increased fee was to cover higher operating expenses, such as the purchase of wheel rubber and spokes and increased insurance rates.
Churchard followed up the Aug. 10 call with an email on Aug. 20 explaining the city’s decision, stating, “It doesn’t make sense for the city to subsidize some rides on Second Street, while paid rides are going on elsewhere in historic Old Town.”
Still, Todd said she was not notified that she would not be allowed to continue using the stable for her for-profit carriage business until Sept. 7.
Todd claimed that at a meeting with city staff in December 2017, the use of the livery stable for paid rides was discussed.
Ultimately, the city still invited Todd, and any other operator, to continue working in Old Town Scottsdale and believed Todd could still make money offering only private rides.
In its response, city staff claimed Todd informed them that walk-ups to her for-profit carriage accounted for 75 to 80 percent of her earnings.
Todd said that figure is outdated as she had to cancel nighttime rides due to safety issues.
Without nighttime rides, Todd said walk-ups only account for “40 percent or less” of her business and that the loss of nighttime income, along with the loss of the subsidy, could put her out of business.
The deal with Unger and WestWorld seemed to solve that income problem.
But even with sponsorship monies, Todd said the business model is not viable without use of the stable because the cost to truck in all of her equipment each week is not offset by the money she would make.
The future looks murky
According to the response from the city, allowing one operator to use the stables would be unfair to other carriage companies interested in operating in the city.
Stockwell said he was not aware of any other companies that had approached the city about operating in downtown Scottsdale but that he believed that lack of interest was a result of the city’s contract with Scottsdale Horse and Carriage.
“We have not had any interest directly while the city is involved with the current operator,” he said. “Obviously, we are aware of other carriage providers that might be interested but not as long as city is providing free rides (through Scottsdale Horse and Carriage).”
Todd countered that other carriage operators she knows are located a significant distance from Scottsdale and that they would truck in horses and carriages regularly without a dedicated storage or staging area.
Stockwell said the city has not identified a proper staging area.
Todd set up at the livery, but no official area has been identified for operators to use in the future.
“We will cross that bridge when we get to it,” Stockwell said.
Unger said the city could open up the outside of the stable for any private operator and limit the usage to one carriage per company.
“I totally understand (the city has) a variety of things going on and different factors they have to consider,” Unger said.
Patricia Mee, who owns Arizona Horse Carriage, said she would be interested in providing rides in Scottsdale, though she said there are only a few horse and carriage operators throughout the Valley and they are wary of moving into another company’s territory.
“We try not to infringe on somebody else’s area,” Mee said.” But if someone goes belly up, someone will go in.”
Mee said the subsidy had nothing to do with her company’s decision not to work in Scottsdale thus far.
She said she had heard Scottsdale had a tough regulatory environment for carriage operators and that had kept her away.
The city does not regulate horses and carriages.
Mee said distance would not be a factor in her decision either.
Arizona Horse Carriage is located in Morristown, Arizona, about 60 miles from Scottsdale. Mee said the company already provides rides in Wickenburg, which is about 11 miles from Morristown, and travels as far as Tucson.
Arizona Horse Carriage is already a regular participant in the annual Parada del Sol Parade in Scottsdale.
Though Mee stated her interest, she did not have any plans at the current time to operate regularly in Scottsdale.
Unger said he will continue to work with Old Town Scottsdale stakeholders in an attempt to keep the carriage rides around.
“If I can work with the private sector, maybe I can mobilize people who can invest in keeping some of our culture preserved in Old Town,” he said.
Unger said he plans to speak with Mike Fox, director of Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, to find out if the museum has any storage space that could be use to store carriages.
Unger said he had considered offering land he owns near the canal to carriage operators but that it was too far from the traditional tourist areas and they would need a garage to protect against theft.
Safety also a concern
Todd also said opening up the city to any operator is a safety issue because there is no ordinance regulating carriage operators.
She said she worked on a draft ordinance after another provider came into the city in 2007 and left after causing safety issues.
Todd said her company developed a safety manual for its own use and has all of its horses undergo 100 hours of road training prior to using them downtown.
She said she has decided not use several horses in the past, because they did not pass road training and would not have been able to handle the stimulating environment in Old Town.
In her original petition, Todd requested the city adopt an ordinance regulating horse and carriages in Scottsdale.
City staff reviewed the draft ordinance but denied this request.
“Staff reviewed this draft ordinance with the City Attorney’s Office and determined that it is not necessary to begin regulating horse and carriage operations in Scottsdale,” the response to Todd read.
Todd said the ordinance wasn’t adopted in 2010 because Scottsdale Horse and Carriage was the only company operating in Scottsdale and it already met the specified safety requirements.
“If we are forced out of Old Town, this ordinance still needs to be in play to keep the City of Scottsdale safe,” she said.