CHARLOTTE – A potential deal between the city and a Florida developer to build an amateur sports complex near Bojangles’ Coliseum appears to have hit the skids.
GoodSports Enterprises, which was supposed to provide an update on the project Thursday, instead sent a letter to City Manager Ron Carlee saying it wanted to suspend the $76.7 million private-public partnership for a year so it could focus on a similar development in Wichita, Kansas.
The company in January said it had found debt and equity investors to back its $39.7 million share of the deal but declined to identify them. GoodSports had been slated to provide renderings and further information on its share of the project to the City Council’s Economic Development and Global Competitiveness Committee on Thursday, but instead sent the letter.
“We are currently working diligently to break ground on the construction of a field house and field house hotel in Wichita, Kansas this spring with a planned opening of the field house portion in November 2015,” wrote GoodSports Chief Executive Jerald Good. “Building of the field house will help answer the question ‘where is there a GoodSports facility we can visit and see in person?’”
Right now, it’s nowhere. GoodSports, which was seeking taxpayer funds for the Charlotte project, hasn’t built any of the 25 sports complexes across the nation that is says it wants to develop.
Members of the economic development committee reacted calmly to the news that plans for the project on East Independence Boulevard were once again up in the air.
At-large Councilwoman Vi Lyles said that she was appreciative that GoodSports had been forthright about its intentions. But, she continued, the city needed to look at what the news meant for Charlotte’s future.
“We ought to take a look at any opportunity that comes along,” she said.
Mayor Dan Clodfelter, who is not on the committee but attended Thursday’s meeting, asked a question to no one in particular regarding what the suspension of the project meant. Does this mean, he asked, that “if they don’t move forward with Wichita that they will move forward with this (project) here?”
Good was supposed to have finalized financing, architecture plans and building permits to start construction in Kansas by Jan. 1. That deadline passed and master developer Wichita Destination Developers gave Good an extension to Feb. 1, according to Kansas.com, the website for The Wichita Eagle.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes asked Anthony Homer, vice president of development for GoodSports, about the delay at a committee meeting in mid-January.
“We realized a prototype we designed was too expensive for that market,” Homer explained. “We revised the scope, which caused us to get an extension. We’re communicating with the city to make sure that’s what they want us to build.”
Since missing the Feb. 1 deadline, Good got another extension that was to have expired Feb. 23 (after the print deadline for The Mecklenburg Times). It appears unlikely the company will be offered, if necessary, a third.
“Given the timeline for the ultimate success of the project, I don’t believe that any of the parties, including the bond owners, are interested in any further extension,” Korb Maxwell, an attorney for Wichita Destination Developers, told The Wichita Eagle.
If the Kansas deal goes through, GoodSports will be eligible for $5.5 million in proceeds from sales and tax revenue bonds for construction costs. If not, Wichita Destination Developers will step in and take control of the project, Maxwell has told the newspaper.
It wouldn’t be the first time GoodSports has scuttled plans. In November, the company suspended indefinitely sports-development projects in suburban Indianapolis and Dayton, Ohio. It cited a lack of funding. The following month, Good told the Charlotte committee that the Queen City was “our No. 1 priority,” as its Kansas project had already obtained financing and permits.
History of delays
The company’s relationship with Charlotte has been tenuous. In 2013, the city sent a request for proposals to four companies, asking them for plans to redevelop the coliseum site. Revitalizing that section of Independence Boulevard, just west of Briar Creek Road, has long been a priority for the city. GoodSports was the only company to respond, the city said.
The process of breaking ground on the 20.3 acres was optimistically slated to have begun last fall, had the city signed an agreement with GoodSports in July.
The company had been 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, which owns the site, and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, operator of the coliseum and Ovens Auditorium. Committee members have been reluctant to back a deal with GoodSports until details about the company’s financing for the project were in place.
In September, the city submitted a rezoning petition for the property. The full City Council on Jan. 20 delayed until April a public hearing on rezoning the land for the complex. The city staff planned to make recommendations on deal terms to the council in early March.
Charlotte has already demolished two crime-ridden properties across the freeway from the coliseum and set aside $25 million from the 2013 capital-improvement plan to redevelop the site. The remaining $12 million of the venture with GoodSports, which included a 100,000-square-foot field house, a 150-room hotel, and up to 1,800 parking spaces behind the coliseum and Ovens Auditorium, was slated to have come from the city’s hospitality tax. The company envisioned the complex as being a high-level athletic training facility and a host venue for regional youth sports competitions, and said that by creating a couple of dozen throughout the country, they would be building a brand that youth sports programs could rely on.
In early 2014, the city spent $3.6 million of the $25 million set aside from the capital-investment plan to buy a 6.8-acre site adjacent to Ovens. A combination of surface and structured parking was planned for the area.
In separate but related developments, the Charlotte City Council voted 10-1 in December to approve $16 million for phase one renovations to Bojangles’ Coliseum, including $4 million in upgrades for the Checkers hockey team to relocate from Time Warner Cable Arena back to their original home. Some $12 million is earmarked for new seats, concession stand upgrades, an improved sound system and mechanical and electrical upgrades. Councilman Kenny Smith, a Republican from District 6, voted against the proposal, citing the coliseum’s advanced age.
Phase one improvements will be covered by the Charlotte Convention Center tax fund, which is financed by existing hospitality tax revenue. The last renovation at the arena was for $2 million in 2002.
Before voting in favor of the proposal, Councilman Ed Driggs of District 7 sought assurances from city staff that the funding was not related to the GoodSports deal.
“Pending an amateur sports proposal,” he said, “if we do the $12 million we might have more pressure to do the other. I’m not sure it’s a successful deal.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Barnes said it was important that “we are putting ourselves in a position to take action” on the development and to leverage those activities with what’s already been done to the site.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble responded by describing the city’s investments in the coliseum area as “wise.”
“Whether we proceed with amateur sports, which we intend to do, we need to think how we revitalize the area with either GoodSports or any other activity,” he said.
Meanwhile, GoodSports says it still wants to continue with the project – in the future.
“I am suggesting that we curtail, for a period of one year, any future talks or discussions with regard to the request for proposal (RFP) to bring youth sports to Charlotte,” Good wrote to Carlee. “However, it might be prudent to revisit the proposal down the road,” adding that the company looked forward to a “potential future partnership with the City of Charlotte.”