Hold your horses! City steps in to bid for troubled Prospect Park stables

Horse hug: A Kensington Stables resident.

Another potential buyer wants a seat at the stable.

The city has now entered negotiations with the owner of the bankrupt Kensington Stables to purchase its aging Caton Place barn, with an eye toward keeping Brooklyn’s last remaining stables in the horse business.

“[The Parks Department] is interested in keeping the property to operate stables serving Prospect Park,” said Marc Yaverbaum, the agent representing the Blankinship family in the sale of 55 Caton Place.

The stables barn was put up for auction earlier this year after the Blankinships fell behind on their tax payments and ran up a debt they couldn’t pay off, according to Kensington Stables manager Walker Blankinship.

But just before the parcel hit the block, a mysterious buyer rode in with an offer to purchase the property, redevelop it and keep operating stables there in an arrangement similar to that with the Mercedes House luxury apartment building on the distant isle of Manhattan, a portion of which became the base of the NYPD’s Mounted Unit in 2014.

Yaverbaum said that dark horse buyer is still in talks with the Blankinships, but now has competition from other suitors, including the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is looking to purchase the property and hand it off to the Parks Department for operations.

Yaverbaum wouldn’t speculate about which buyer has the advantage at this time, but confirmed his client would likely act with his own best interest —not necessarily the community’s — in mind.

“I can’t say who has the upper hand or if we prefer one or the other,” he said. “My client prefers the best deal.”

The potential sale of the barn has drawn attention from local elected officials, including Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), who in a letter to Yaverbaum vowed to oppose any zoning changes necessary for development unless the buyer agreed to keep operating stables on the site.

“The community strongly supports the preservation of a horse stable at this location,” Lander wrote to Yaverbaum in February. “Bidders should be clear about this expectation.”

Neither the Economic Development Corporation or the Parks Department returned calls for comment.

If the city does buy the 1930s-era barn, it faces a considerable job getting it up to building codes. An engineering report commissioned in 2013 by the horse-riding-therapy group GallopNYC found a number of glaring structural flaws in the building, including a water-damaged roof at risk of collapse, and a parapet wall leaning out over the street that a stiff wind or freezing thaw could eventually topple into the path of pedestrians.

“[The engineer] predicted the building would fall down in a fairly short time, and the joints would pull out of the side, and the front of the building would pancake onto the sidewalk,” said Alicia Kershaw, founder and executive director of Gallop NYC.

Borough President Adams provided the Economic Development Corporation with $500,000 towards the purchase of the Caton Place barn, taking unspent money that had been granted the Parks Department by a previous borought president for maintaining the stables, according to Stefan Ringel, a spokesman for Adams.

“We want Kensington Stables to stay open in this ‘neigh’-borhood for years to come,” said Adams. “They are a treasured part of our past, present, and hopefully our future.”

Adding to the city’s pot of money is more than $1 million in capitol funding Lander diverted from other projects, namely the construction of a horse-riding ring planned for Prospect Park, which wouldn’t see much use without the stables anyway, he said.

Lander claims that he, along with the Parks Department and Prospect Park Alliance, had planned for Kensington Stables’ potential failure for years, and there were already strategies in place for preserving horse riding around the park when the property finally hit the market.

“There was a dialogue with Prospect Park Alliance and the Parks Department over the past several years,” Lander said. “So when the most recent incident came about and there was a fear of losing the stables, there was already a good dialogue underway.”

If the city is successful in purchasing the property, Blankinship and his herd may not be kept on — the Parks Department plans on contracting out the stables’ operation following a bidding process, according to Parks spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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