Santa arrives to Saddle Up’s Nov. 30 10th anniversary celebration and fundraiser. Saddle Up’s program director Melissa Yarbrough, and her daughter Scout drive Santa’s horse-drawn carriage.
PINELLAS PARK – Saddle Up Riding Club could find itself homeless in 90 days – unless it’s able to raise $90,000 by the end of those three months.
The club, which offers equine therapy for disabled children, adults and veterans, in addition to its programs for able-bodied riders, has operated on about 7 acres in Pinellas Park for the past six years. Now the property’s owner, Arianna Land LLC, is no longer willing to lease the land to the nonprofit organization and has given it 90 days to come up with the financing to purchase the property at 6080 94th Ave. for $450,000.
Several months ago, Kellie Sipos, executive director at Saddle Up, was approached by Second Chance Foundation, an organization that assists struggling nonprofit groups and offered to help her purchase the property. Saddle Up would be required to provide a 20 percent down payment, as well as to pay the difference between what a property appraiser recently determined the property to be worth – about $375,000, Sipos said – and Arianna Land’s $450,000 asking price. According to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser website, the most recent assessed value of the property is $233,010.
The property for sale is about 2.78 acres, Sipos said, but Nancy Sparks, a neighbor to the east, also allows the club to use 4 acres of her property for no cost. Sipos pays $2,500 in rent to Arianna Land each month.
Now Saddle Up is determined to raise $90,000 in 90 days in order to purchase its property and continue its services. Otherwise, “we’re done. We have nowhere else to go,” Sipos said.
She’s found other properties that she could rent, but they’re either too far away from her client base or too small, meaning she’d have to significantly scale back Saddle Up’s programming.
“If 2,000 people donated $45 we’d have it,” Sipos said.
She’s also hoping that Keith Johnson of Arianna Land follows through on the sale. There’s been some tension between the two after the residential structure at the front of the property, which Sipos had been renting to a tenant, was condemned by the city of Pinellas Park on Aug. 12.
The roof was leaking and full of mold, she said. So she and her husband offered to help Johnson fix the home and split the cost for supplies. This quickly added up to thousands of dollars, she said.
So Sipos withheld rent for two months in an effort to force Johnson to meet with her in person to discuss the house. Instead, she said, he posted an eviction notice on the land and filed a complaint with the county. Sipos has since brought the rent up to date and the complaint is winding its way through the court system, she said.
As for the condemned structure, Tim Caddell, a spokesperson for Pinellas Park, said Johnson missed his Dec. 2 deadline to bring the structure up to code and has not returned calls to the city. Caddell said the deadline will likely be extended, but ultimately, if the structure isn’t repaired, the city will demolish it.
Johnson said, “When I get my tenants off the property, then I can fix the house.”
When asked about the potential sale of the property, he said,
“That’s between me and Saddle Up.”
Her biggest concern is what will happen to her riders if Saddle Up is forced to close its doors.
“If this place shuts down, I don’t think people realize what this is emotionally going to do to them,” she said. “It’s more than just a farm, it’s a home.”
In addition to its affordable Equine Assisted Therapy program, the nonprofit also works closely with the juvenile welfare board, working with at-risk youth who need to fulfill volunteer hours.
Sipos also plans to start a life skills and job coaching program for mentally and physically challenged young adults 18 and older. The program would focus on areas such as cooking, gardening and caring for animals, she said, and give its participants a greater sense of purpose.
Often when they graduate from high school, “there’s nowhere for these kids to go,” she said.
She added, “Even someone with a 30 IQ needs a purpose in this world.”