Chesterfield voids contract for Matheny-affiliated sports complex –

CHESTERFIELD • A plan for a $55 million youth sports complex in the levee-protected flood plain here fell apart Monday night.

City officials declared a contract for the project void because the development group behind the planned POWERplex facility missed a June 1 deadline. By that date, the group was supposed to show that it had nailed down $23 million in philanthropic contributions for the project. The council declined a requested extension.

The City Council also opted out of a plan to purchase 22 acres needed for the complex.

The development group planning the complex is led by area philanthropist and former newscaster Dan Buck and includes St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Buck told the City Council that the group had commitments for $18 million in contributions.

Buck said the motion to grant an extension was thwarted by politics.

“Unfortunately there are members of this council who just don’t want to see it happen,” he said. “They want to continually throw up roadblocks.”

The council had voted 4-3 in January in favor of a resolution creating a development agreement and ground lease between the city and Buck’s Big Sports Properties LLC for 52 acres of land east of the city’s Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex.

Plans call for a 74-acre development of indoor sports domes with basketball and volleyball courts, indoor softball and little league fields that backers say will draw tournaments from across the Midwest and near South.

The plans also include 50,000 square feet of office space, a 40,000-square-foot education center and a 220-room hotel.

Under the proposal, Chesterfield would own the land the complex is built on and lease it back to Buck’s group. But the council also had to authorize proceeding with the $2 million purchase of another 22-acre tract slated to be included in the development footprint.

Councilman Barbara McGuinness, who had contested the validity of the contract, said Monday that she didn’t see it as the city’s responsibility to purchase land for the complex.

Councilwoman Michelle Ohley, who originally voted not to pull out of the land-purchase agreement, changed her vote later.

“My original vote was wrong,” Ohley said. “Anything could happen in the future. It’s just that we notify the owner we have no intention of buying the land this week.”

Some members who voted with Ohley said they would be open to considering future proposals.

But Councilman Dan Hurt said he believed the city should put its focus elsewhere to ensure financial growth.

“We have to look at this area as a job-market area. I see the next opportunity not as a recreational area. I see the next one being downtown Chesterfield,” he said. “Let’s not get hung up on this as the holy grail.”

The city had anticipated getting $450,000 annually in new tax revenue generated by the facility on top of lease payments.

While the council could give Buck and his partners a chance to renegotiate the contract, he saw that prospect as doubtful.

He said he expected that he would have to take his proposal elsewhere. “The funding model is good,” he said. “Unfortunately, it just won’t happen probably in Chesterfield.”

County Councilman Mark Harder, whose district includes Chesterfield, also expressed disappointment that the plan was stalled.

St. Louis County was considering financing $12 million worth of infrastructure to support development in Chesterfield Valley north of Highway 40 (Interstate 64), an integral piece of the plan for the complex. The money would extend sewer and water lines north of Highway 40 and improve roads on the development site.

The county had asked the Chesterfield council for an extension to get the funding set up. “The biggest piece of this that no bank will loan money on is infrastructure,” Harder said. “That’s government’s responsibility.”

“County Executive Steve Stenger and Councilman Mark Harder have been strong supporters of the project and continue to work with the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership to build a viable funding plan for the infrastructure to make sure this project stays in St. Louis County,” Buck wrote in a memo to the Chesterfield City Council last week.

The infrastructure support is on top of an informal commitment from the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership to issue $16 million in tax exempt Industrial Development Authority bonds from St. Louis County’s IDA. That board, overseen by staff from the Economic Development Partnership, still needs to approve the bonds.

The IDA bonds would be repaid with project revenues and are included as part of nearly $40 million in preliminary financing commitments for the POWERplex project. Simmons Bank has offered $18 million; First State Bank has said it would lend almost $5.8 million to fund the project.

But both of the private lenders say their ultimate support is still dependent on St. Louis County crafting a financing plan to extend the infrastructure to the site.

Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney said Monday that the infrastructure package could include additional financing mechanisms overseen by her organization as well as assistance from St. Louis County. St. Louis County financial assistance could require approval from the County Council.

What form the infrastructure assistance takes depends on an analysis of the POWERplex developers’ business plan submitted to the Partnership and county officials last week, Sweeney said. It could take several more weeks to vet the proposal, she said.

“We’re doing an analysis of it and at this point, everything’s contingent on that analysis of what the project can generate and what is a fair investment, if any,” Sweeney said.

Buck said in January that “not one dollar of taxpayer money will build this facility — this community will support it.”

He and his partners have spent the ensuing months securing financing and have also won a $6 million commitment from megadonors Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, who support conservative political causes and arts and education institutions in the region.

Their donation would help pay for an education facility on the POWERplex campus for the Buck-founded BASE (Baseball And Softball Education) Foundation, which describes itself as promoting sportsmanship in youth athletics.


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