CHARLOTTE – Four officials from GoodSports Enterprise attended a City Council committee meeting Wednesday to assure members that they are committed to building an amateur sports complex on Independence Boulevard.
They also said that in the past week they have found probable equity partners and lenders for financing, but that those financiers will want to see a development agreement signed by the city before committing.
District 4 Councilman Michael Barnes, who chairs the Economic Development and Global Competitiveness Committee, likened the process to wanting to ask someone to the prom, but not wanting to ask unless you know the answer will be yes.
Committee members are reluctant to commit until financing is in place, and company officials said financiers are reluctant to commit until the project receives the city’s blessing.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble told committee members the sides are well into discussions of the terms of a development agreement, which he expects to be completed by Feb. 16, when the City Council is expected to vote on the property’s rezoning.
The committee also will hear updates at its Jan. 15 meeting, covering “as much detail that is possible, that is as finalized as possible,” said Kimble.
Responding to at-large Councilwoman Claire Fallon’s concerns about the city going out on a limb should the project not go through, GoodSports President Jerald Good said, “I wouldn’t be sitting here to play games.”
The company has plans to start 25 amateur sports and fitness field houses accompanied by hotels, retail and offices that will offer sports instruction and host regional competitions for traveling youth sports programs, such as volleyball, basketball and cheerleading.
GoodSports’ vision is to create a franchise brand that combines the intensive athletic conditioning and training of isolated programs such as the IMG Academy in Florida, which churns out highly competitive professional players as well as college scholarship players, with the familiarity of a national brand that traveling athletic programs will be drawn to. The ultimate goal for many participants, Good said, is to obtain college athletic scholarships.
Good said that a project that is likely to be the company’s first has obtained financing and permits in Wichita, Kan., and that as a result, “Charlotte is our No. 1 priority.” He said they could begin moving dirt in fall 2015 should the process move along smoothly.
Company officials said the facilities would be open to the public as well, with programs for athletes in recreational, competitive and elite programs.
Committee members emphasized that the project also should be accessible to the public and should play a part in the redevelopment of the aging neighborhood.
“I’m not sold,” said District 3 Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield, who said she wanted to know how it would benefitthe community as a whole.
Toward the end of the meeting, at-large Councilwoman Vi Lyles told Wood that the project is promising, but also said it’s important that it work for the community as well as the company.
“It’s OK (for us) to walk away if it doesn’t achieve what we want,” she said. Lyles pointed out that many of the youth in Charlotte who would benefit from college scholarships may not be able to pay for a program that GoodSports would offer.
GoodSports had originally planned to break ground this fall, but has said for months that it was having trouble securing financing. The company last month indefinitely suspended developments in suburban Indianapolis and Dayton, Ohio, citing lack of financing.
The company’s portion of the $76.7 million venture would be $39.7 million, with $25 million coming from the city’s 2013 capital-improvement plan to redevelop the area and $12 million coming from the city’s hospitality tax.
The city owns the property, which is also home to Bojangles’ Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium. Both are operated by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which is also part of the negotiations and controls the hospitality tax proceeds.
Revitalizing that section of Independence Boulevard, just west of Briar Creek Road, has long been a priority of the city, which last year, demolished two crime-ridden properties across the freeway. GoodSports was the only company to reply to a city request for proposals, and its plans are to build a 100,000-square-foot field house, a 150-room hotel, and up to 1,800 parking spaces on the 20.3 acres.
In January, the city spent $3.6 million of the $25 million set aside from the capital-investment plan for a 6.8-acre site adjacent to Ovens. A combination of surface and structured parking is planned for the area.
The company was expected to file a rezoning petition for the property in June, but missed the deadline because it hadn’t yet firmed up an agreement with the city and the CRVA. In September, the city submitted a rezoning petition.
The coliseum area, on the south side of East Independence Boulevard, is currently zoned general business district and multifamily residential. The city wants that changed to mixed-use development with optional provisions, which allows the modification of existing plans, and general business district conditional, which puts limits on future development.