Leaders of the Devon Horse Show pledged Tuesday to raise $8 million and implement a five-year plan to improve the institution's grounds.

The plans emerged after a private meeting in which board members of the nonprofit discussed how to make the show more competitive in the equestrian world, chairman Wayne Grafton said.

Among the proposed changes are expanded parking, grandstand improvements, and a new corporate and VIP sponsor section, he said. The show will also refinance its mortgage and use the equity to pay for improvements.

The campaign, announced midway through this year's staging of the event, comes after months of outside worries and ongoing scrutiny about the future of the century-old horse show and its venerable fairgrounds.

Since the previous chairman and president were replaced with Grafton and Richard O'Donnell in December, onlookers have called for the new leaders to preserve the show grounds.

On May 14, an independent group called the Devon Preservation Alliance emerged, asking for supporters to help promote the protection of the site.

Grafton, who dismissed that group as not credible, said Tuesday that the new plan demonstrates that the 119-year-old show is "here to stay."

"It further states to the equestrian community - the legitimate equestrian community - that Devon's greatness is going to continue into the future," he said.

Donors have pledged or given about $1 million total toward the goal, he said, so board members hope to start improvements this fall. "They were excited that somebody's tackling these issues," he said.

However, plans for fund-raising were vague. Grafton said details would be "further fleshed out" at future board meetings.

The nonprofit's yearly donation to the Bryn Mawr Hospital, its beneficiary, would remain the same, Grafton said. This year will bring the second installment in a five-year pledge of $425,000 per year to the hospital.

Former president Sarah Coxe Lange, who during her tenure advocated for an easement to preserve the land, questioned announcing such plans before revenue from this year's show is clear.

"I think it's a nice move . . . [but] don't do this until you know how your year has turned out," she said.

The plan also includes expanded prizes, more box seats, and barn repairs. Much of the work is maintenance that was deferred over the course of 10 or 15 years, Grafton said.

"We're not making changes to make changes. We're making changes to be competitive," he said.

610-313-8205@McDanielJustine