Tag Archives: Silverlake Equestrian Park

Public Park Ends Up With Admission Fee, Sit-Down Restaurant And Bar

Staff Reports

Norco – The Riverside County Grand Jury is allegedly indicating Norco turned the 122-acre SilverLakes property that was intended for “public park, recreational and open space purposes” into a money-making venture that charges admission and features a full-service restaurant and bar.

The grand jury is calling on the district attorney to probe Norco officials’ handling of the project, the panel stated in a report issued last week.

“The SilverLakes Equestrian and Sports Complex is not a public park” as envisioned in a 2002 federal court order restricting use of the land north of the Santa Ana River along Hamner Avenue, the report states.

Norco officials dispute the grand jury’s contention and say the development is in compliance with the court-ordered restriction.

“They are interpreting it wrong,” City Manager Andy Okoro said by phone Tuesday, May 22.

The city intends to issue a detailed written response in a few weeks.

The park opened in September 2015. It hosts concerts, equestrian competitions, soccer tournaments and regional cross-country meets, among other events. The complex boasts 24 soccer fields, five equestrian arenas, a 12,000-square-foot outdoor cafe, a 10,000-person capacity concert venue called The BackYard and a 150-seat restaurant called The FieldHouse.

It drew 1.4 million visitors in 2017, said Cheryl Link, Norco’s city clerk.

However, SilverLakes has had a long and often troubled history.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued an investment company that owned the property until the late 1990s, alleging unethical practices, the report said. A judgment concluded that some Norco residents who invested in a Ponzi scheme associated with the property had been defrauded of their money. That led to the 2002 U.S. District Court order restricting the property’s use, once it was sold. The city acquired it.

Development was delayed for years, though, and it didn’t help that a 2010 flood along the Santa Ana River caused major damage. After site repairs, construction was finally underway in 2013, before wrapping up in late 2015. The developer is the Balboa Management Group.

While investigating Silverlakes, the grand jury took testimony from the city manager, former Norco elected officials and “concerned” Norco residents. Sara Lipchak, who headed the grand jury, said she could not elaborate.

The grand jury determined that the 2002 development restriction remains in place and the city unsuccessfully sought to alter it in 2004. The panel suggested that the city in 2012 misled the Riverside County Superior Court, which validated the city’s development strategy based on a submitted plan that was “substantially different from what was actually constructed.”

The grand jury report said that the “plans had no reference to constructing a full-service commercial restaurant and bar.”

The grand jury urged:

  • The district attorney to investigate why Norco officials accepted the developer’s bid to build a park with a major commercial component and provided “misleading documents” to the Riverside County court to obtain approval for “a commercial sports park rather than a genuine public park.”
  • Norco to stop charging admission to the park — $8 per walk-in visitor and $10 per carload.
  • Norco to add “actual recreational assets and amenities” such as shade trees, picnic tables, playgrounds, barbecue grills, tennis courts and bike trails.

Brian Petree, deputy city manager, acknowledged the admission charges, but said those are reserved for large weekend events and payments generally are not required from people who visit the park at other times.

As for the restaurant, Petree said it is an appropriate component because it has a concession operation that provides food and drinks for park visitors and is not unusual for a park of SilverLakes’ size.

“We’re not talking about a neighborhood park here. We’re talking about a regional facility,” he said. “And so, you have to look at it in that aspect.”

Silverlakes: Another Perspective

Silverlakes Master Plan Photo Courtesy:  City of Norco


By Jennifer Madrigal

Norco – With so much controversy and politics surrounding the now infamous Silverlakes Equestrian and Sports Park in Norco, there seems to be a notion that the taxpayers of Norco have received nothing in return. According to Norco Councilman, Kevin Bash, that simply is not true. In fact, Bash points out that Norco has directly and indirectly received millions of dollars in cash, infrastructure, property improvements, road improvements, and more.

The Silverlakes property was first purchased in 2002 for $5.5 million dollars with the primary intent to stop more homes from being built. The City also hoped to create a “green belt buffer” between Norco and Eastvale. The money used to purchase the park was from RDA (redevelopment) Funds, and as a result the Redevelopment Agency actually owned Silverlakes. Those funds were very limited in what they could be used for and were eventually taken away by the Governor. Had the property not been purchased, the money would have been completely lost.

Already occupying the property, the once beautiful Lyn-Bar Ranch and fishing ponds fell deeper into disrepair as the land continued to be a constant source of Council and public controversy. Weeds grew higher, the property generated no revenue, and the costs for fencing and weed abatement began to add up. In April of 2011, the City of Norco purchased Silverlakes from the RDA for one dollar, and ownership came with a Federal deed restriction stating the land could only be used for a park and any commercial use included must fund the park.

Silverlakes developer, RJ Brandes, CEO of Balboa Management Group, has continued his quest to see this land turned into the Silverlakes Equestrian and Sports Park that both Eastvale and Norco are eagerly anticipating. Negative press, bank troubles and political divisions between the Council and community have caused delay after delay. According to Councilman Bash, “This project should have been shelved so many times, but Brandes has continued to stick in there because he sees the big picture.” In fact, following the December 2010 flood that absolutely devastated the property, Brandes had already spent $4 million on the site.

In July of 2011, Balboa Management Group, LLC and the City of Norco entered into a Funding Construction and Acquisition Agreement in which the City of Norco agreed to set aside $6,000,000 of a 2009 Enterprise Revenue Refunding Water and Sewer Bond to reimburse Balboa Management Group for the actual cost of eligible sewer and water related facilities. This loan agreement was very unusual because normal practice calls for the landowners, The City of Norco, to be responsible for installing the entire infrastructure, but in this case Brandes accepted a loan to do all the work. To clarify, Norco bond holders (Norconians) will be paid back and thus pay nothing for water, sewer and storm drain construction. This loan was discussed in multiple public meetings and clearly understood by the Norco City Council. Bash believes that many people don’t know that there is a loan agreement in place. Part of the loan agreement includes Balboa Management Group paying $33,040 each month in lease payments. This rental income is the second largest tax revenue generator for the City of Norco. In addition, these initial Norco/Silverlakes start-up loan monies have attracted millions of dollars from county and federal agencies, which funded the long delayed Hamner Avenue widening project and will be used to build the new Hamner Bridge.

The money and improvements from this project to the City of Norco cannot be ignored. Over $396,000 each year in lease payments has been collected from Balboa Management Group, which goes directly to the general fund. This money is used to fund public safety, children and senior programs, and more. Additionally, millions of dollars from outside agencies, services and advantages have been provided to Norco, one of the most substantial being the dike. After the flood of 2010, Norco Staff, Brandes and the Army Corp of Engineers sought a better way to protect the property from flooding. A protective dike that runs from the northeast sector of the property around to the southern end along the river was constructed. This dike is designed to withstand a flood where water rises up and over the property. The $752,000 project was paid for by Riverside County Flood Control.

Another project that was completed was the Hamner Avenue Widening Project, which was funded as a direct result of the Silverlakes Project. Norco received $1.4 million from TUMF (Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fees), $1.5 million from DSA (Chino Desalter Authority), and $1.6 million from Successor Agency (formerly RDA, funds pending). Other improvements to the site that are directly benefiting Norco and parts of Eastvale presently, are the tunnel, which acts as a Silverlakes flood release valve, and storm drains located in the new Eastvale Community Park – which combined with the tunnel will act as further protection from another devastating flood.

The Hamner Avenue Bridge Project will also begin with the federal government paying 88 percent of the costs, and regional agencies matching the other 12 percent. This project is currently in the engineering stages and Riverside Supervisor Tavaglione predicts the bridge will be completed in five years. These projects and many other small infrastructure projects, as well as businesses that have come to Norco in anticipation of this park, are just a few examples of the good that this project has already created.

Silverlakes Equestrian and Sports Park may still seem to be only weeds and dirt at this point, but the property has generated thousands of dollars to Norco’s general fund, brought road and city improvements to Norco and the property is worth so much more than it was five years ago. It has promise, and will be a major component to the economic health of the communities of Norco and Eastvale by attracting more business interests to both cities. At press time, Brandes is still committed to the project, is still making his lease payments, and hopefully will soon acquire the financing needed to finally bring this project to completion.


By Jennifer Madrigal and K.P. Sander

Photo Courtesy: Google Images

Photo Courtesy: Google Images

Norco – Silverlakes Equestrian Sports Park, the highly anticipated 122-acre recreational facility that began development in 2007, has hit yet another roadblock. Financing for the park in Norco has been delayed as their latest financial backer has pulled out.

At a Norco City Council Meeting in December, Balboa Management Group Chief Executive Officer, R.J. Brandes, said he hoped construction would begin in early 2014 with the opening occurring six to nine months thereafter. However, at a Feb. 19 City Council meeting, Brandes informed the council that bank officials who had agreed to finance had withdrawn.

Silverlakes Equestrian Sports Park has been eagerly awaited for years and with the grand opening of Eastvale Community Park occurring on March 8, the barren field is even more of an eyesore. Silverlakes will be used for equestrian and sporting events, as well as dog shows, car shows, weddings, corporate and community events, circus performances, camping and more. Once completed, it will also join with nearly 120 miles of biking, jogging and equestrian trails.

The vacant land and unfinished project continue to be a source of controversy for both Eastvale and Norco residents. In a meeting back in October 2013, Norco Planning Commission member, Dave Henderson, and his wife Shirley, made a public presentation providing the facts on Silverlakes. Some key points were: $5.1 million was spent in 2012 when there was not authorization to spend above $3.7 million; water, sewer and road infrastructure were not in place; water/sewer municipal bond money appears to have been used for something else; and inspections were not made. With even more delays and no progress on what is now just vacant land with lots of dirt, many questions of poor planning have been raised.

So, will this project ever be completed? According to Brandes, at least two larger banks are considering financing the project and he is determined not to give up on this project until the deal is done. However, when questioned by Councilman Greg Newton at the Feb. 19 City Council meeting about a timeline for financing and construction, Brandes avoided answering.

According to a 2009 market analysis, Silverlakes (with an equestrian center capable of stabling and hosting world-class events, 25 soccer fields, a stadium field that can seat up to 5,000, an event center and picnic areas) could bring in over $35 million to Norco and attract over 550,000 visitors. These are funds that the City has been eagerly anticipating, especially since $5.7 million in water and sewer bond proceeds have already been released to the developer by the City.

The current situation involving Silverlakes Equestrian Sports Park continues to be waterlogged by a lack of funding, reimbursement legalities and general mistrust, but everyone involved still seems to remain hopeful that eventually the project will be completed.