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A major hitch 

In the midst of the sale of its events center, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation is sued

About a decade ago, the nonprofit Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation acquired the Norris-Penrose Event Center, thanks to the generosity of the property's previous owner, El Paso County, and one of the rodeo's most valued donors, Robert Norris.

At the time, the property was in dire need of improvements, and the sale presented a solution. The county sold the center to the foundation for $10, and agreed to donate about $500,000 to help with updates. Norris provided $2 million to the foundation to pay for the majority of the project.

But that turned out to fall short of the project's needs. So Norris agreed in 2006 to lend the foundation another $1 million to see the improvements through to completion.

Since then, the center has been home to the foundation's signature event, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, as well as to other happenings from home shows to beer festivals. The 70-plus-acre property includes a stadium that can hold up to 10,000, a 36,000-square-foot special events facility, a 6,000-square-foot meeting facility, and stables.

But now the foundation says it's not interested in owning the center anymore. It's in negotiations to sell the property to the Broadmoor Hotel, owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, for an undisclosed price.

(El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark says she believes the county had first right of refusal on the property, but she doesn't believe the county is interested in taking it back, and feels the Broadmoor would have the means to further update the Center to the benefit of the community.)

The pending sale appears to have stirred up conflict, however. Norris, who had served on the foundation's board since 2004, resigned in May and sued the foundation. He says it never repaid his $1 million loan, and he wants his money back.

A long history

Norris is the long-time owner of 95,000 acres north of Pueblo known as T-Cross Ranches.

A horse and cattle man, he raises show horses, provides stallion breeding services, and sells horses, according to the ranch website. Norris wouldn't comment for this story, and his attorney, Brooke Yates, would only say, "The parties are working together to try and reach an amicable resolution." But a complaint and jury demand filed by Norris on May 12 details his beef.

According to the document, Norris originally gave $2 million to the foundation — enough to convince county commissioners that necessary work on the center would be completed if they sold the property to it. The deal closed in late 2004.

In recognition, the foundation renamed the center, then known as the Pikes Peak Equestrian Center, partly in his honor. They also gave him two permanent seats on its board of directors.

Bryan Construction was hired to do the work, but the money ran out, and Norris was asked to lend the rodeo $1 million to complete the project. (Interestingly, Scott Bryan, the head of Bryan Construction, is now rodeo board president.) "In exchange," the complaint says, "the Foundation promised to repay the loan, use the funds to complete the improvements to the Center, and to document the loan at a later date."

That's where it gets tricky. According to the complaint, the loan was never a written agreement, because the president of the foundation's board, who was also Norris' banker, told Norris the foundation couldn't take out an official loan without losing its nonprofit status and violating its agreement with the county. Norris received a loan from the president of the board's bank, which he used in turn to loan the foundation the additional funds.

The complaint states that the loan was discussed in board meetings and acknowledged in a 2009 letter from the board secretary. But Norris contends the foundation refused to document the loan later, as promised. Nor has it paid the money back.

"The Foundation is now refusing to recognize its indebtedness to Mr. Norris, based on an unsubstantiated position that it now has concerns that that [sic] El Paso County prohibited debt financing for capital improvements to the Center," the complaint says. "Instead, the Foundation is attempting to recast its obligations to Mr. Norris as simply 'moral obligations' rather than legal obligations."

Along with documentation of the loan, its repayment with interest, and legal expenses, Norris is seeking a trust and lien that would effectively put the center's sale to the Broadmoor — and thus, the future of the center — in peril.

Word from the rodeo

Foundation officials didn't return calls seeking comment, but their arguments unfold in a legal answer to the complaint.

The foundation denies most of Norris' claims, but admits that he provided $1 million to the foundation, documented as a loan in a 2006 promissory note and a 2009 letter. But, it states, the note did not provide for interest or collateral on the debt, and it states that payment in full was due in April 2008.

Norris, it says, can no longer sue for payment of the debt because the statute of limitations on such a suit expired. (Norris contests that.) It also claims that Norris may have long ago considered the money a gift and taken a deduction on his personal income taxes for it.

Norris, the answer goes on to say, is seeking to make the center "unmarketable" and creating "an unwarranted cloud on real property owned by the Foundation" by alerting the county clerk and recorder that the center is the subject of a lawsuit. The foundation wants Norris to pay its legal fees and damages for "slander," and for the court to invalidate the notice to the clerk's office by asserting that Norris has no claim to the property.

Steve Bartolin, president and CEO of the Broadmoor, says he doesn't know much about the lawsuit, but it's had "no bearing on our discussion" concerning purchasing the property.

stanley@csindy.com

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