Following the publication of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book: “Seabiscuit, An American Legend”, an academy award nominated film, and the mass interest that followed, Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation was formed in 2004. The purpose is to preserve and protect the cultural legacy of Ridgewood Ranch, Seabiscuit’s home and final resting place, through historic preservation and land conservation.
It was determined that in addition the beautiful natural setting of the ranch also creates a desirable venue for social events, business meetings and retreats. These activities would create a revenue stream that could provide operating funds to continue to refurbish, renovate and maintain the buildings and grounds of the Ranch, while providing a combination nature/historical experience for visitors.
BUSINESS DESCRIPTION AND VISION
In 2007, GRCA and SHF entered into an agreement whereby SHF would co-manage a Public Access Endowment Fund and providing limited public access in terms of guided nature walks and historic walking tours. On January 1, 2014, GRCA and SHF executed a lease agreement that encompassed certain areas and buildings on the Ranch. The intention of the lease agreement is to give SHF the authority and responsibility to repair and rehabilitate certain buildings in preparation for opening the buildings for joint use.
The Lease Agreement also had SHF engaged in fundraising, public relations, and some property management.
The eventual refurbishment of the ranch buildings would create opportunities to rent the buildings for social events, business meetings and retreats.
In order to develop a plan for the rehabilitation of the Ridgewood Ranch buildings, the Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation applied for, and was awarded a grant from the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The grant provided the funding for SHF to hire Garavaglia Architecture, Inc. to prepare a Historic Preservation Management Plan that focused on the buildings and listed the work necessary to bring them to the level whereby they can be preserved. In addition, a detailed Core Historic Structures Report was prepared by the lead historic preservation architect at Garavaglia Architecture, Inc. in 2007.
Ridgewood Ranch is located within easy driving distance of the San Francisco Bay Area, a popular destination for visitors from around the world. Even people who live year round in the Bay Area are attracted to the natural beauty of Mendocino County, and the prospect of spending quality time at the beautiful Ridgewood Ranch is appealing.
The initial phase of the lease agreement between GRCA and SHF (2014-2017) is focused on three buildings on the Ranch: The Stud Barn, the Carriage House, and the Bath Houses. The remainder of the lease period that extends to 2028, and includes the possible preservation or rehabilitation of additional buildings, raising money to cover operating costs, and expanded use of the ranch facilities.
The Stud Barn, built in 1939 to house Seabiscuit in his retirement years is a natural focal point for visitors to the ranch, having a direct connection to Seabiscuit. The Stud Barn, listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 2014, is a prominent feature of ranch tours, and the required repairs are intended to preserve the structural and architectural integrity of the building.
The Carriage House was originally built to accommodate carriages in 1905, but in the 1930’s was modified for automobiles. The large, open main area is ideal for a variety of social events, such as wedding receptions, dinners and meetings. SHF secured grant funding toward the replacement of the front doors, enabling the space to be closed during inclement weather, but opened to take advantage of the beautiful California climate. The Carriage House can be rented for these occasions, thus providing a source of revenue in support of historic preservation.
The Bath Houses were used by the Howard family and guests, and could once again be used by future guests of the ranch, in addition to current Ridgewood Ranch residents.
Repairs to the Howard Mare Barn, the Howard House and other ranch buildings, such as Lindsey House would further enhance the overall appeal and preservation of the property.
The ultimate goal is to create the means to make Ridgewood Ranch economically self-sufficient by developing a sustainable revenue stream as a recreational and historical destination.
The Preservation Management Plan contains a detailed description of the work required, but the ultimate conclusion of the Preservation Management Plan and this Business Plan is pretty straight forward: the Ranch buildings and property should be brought to a state of repair and rehabilitation that will be as close to the original state as is possible and practical to achieve while adhering to the U.S. Secretary of Interior Standards of Historic Preservation. Despite the fact that many of the buildings were built as much as a century ago, they can still be expected to look beautiful and be functional; a place that we can all be proud to share with visitors from around the world.
Use and Management Strategies:
Respecting the church’s use of the property and the privacy of the residents is paramount, but certain activities could be permitted and encouraged.
There are many opportunities to rent some of the buildings for social and business events and it is advisable to engage the services of an event planner to help with this.
The event planner would provide the expertise and execution regarding the specific activities that could be held in the various venues, having an understanding of what amenities and services would need to be offered in addition to the fees that can (and should) be charged for use of the facilities. SHF has identified candidates for this function.
Test marketing has proved the necessity for key infrastructure improvements in order to operate efficiently and maximize potential for growth; i.e. restroom facilities, regular maintenance schedules, Howard House kitchen upgrades, developing a marketing plan, streamlining client communications, approval process, etc.
Execution of the Use Plan:
The repair and rehabilitation of the buildings should be completed as funds are generated from event rentals. A Facilities Manager should be designated to book revenue raising events, and an Event Planner should be hired to organize and run these events professionally and with minimal impact on ranch residents.
According to the Preservation Management Plan, SHF was formed “to facilitate fundraising, public relations and some management related to the property.” Ultimately, it is intended that the building rehabilitation funded by the income that will be generated by renting the facilities and other planned activities, will result in an eventual, consistent revenue flow to the ranch, historic preservation and the eventual increase of the property value.
Estimated Capital Improvements
Howard House Kitchen/Bathroom $ 32,000
Carriage House $ 17,000
Bath Houses & Plunge $ 12,500
Stud Barn $ 26,500
Program support $ 12,000
Total Estimated Budget $ 100,000