Council delays land purchase, questions project’s potential
Questioning its benefit to the town, Stallings council members voted against purchasing land for the proposed Sportsplex Monday, March 14. By a 4-2 vote, with council members Wyatt Dunn and Renee Hartis in opposition, the group determined not to move forward for the moment, saying they wanted more information and possibly a revised product.
“We don’t have excess funds to purchase this land,” council member Paul Frost said. “There’s no way we could get anywhere close to an economic benefit for this. Why are we tying up tax dollars for (it)?”
Originally broached last fall, Stallings hopes to use a public-private partnership to build an 83-acre complex, potentially consisting of an indoor facility and at least four outdoor athletic fields. Data collected by National Amateur Sports projects an estimated 131,000 people annually traveling to Stallings to use the facility, spending $105 per visit on average. That equals a yearly injection of $13.7 million into the Stallings economy. The problem however is that no independent studies have been done of the proposal, causing Frost and others to question their accuracy.
“It’s going to take the lion’s share of our fund balance,” council member Reed Esarove said, adding that he still liked the idea, but didn’t agree with the current proposal.
Frost also pointed out that the feasibility study talks about that $13.7 million coming from restaurants, hotels and other commercial development, which wouldn’t actively come back to Stallings except through property taxes. Sales tax revenue first goes to the state, which then sends it back to the county. Union County then divides the dollars among all the towns, based on property values.
“Why are we spending our entire fund balance (on something) not a priority?” Frost asked, pointing out that a sports facility wasn’t on the town’s list of projects labeled a priority in the five year financial plan. Other items, such as parks and a streetscape were high on that list.
Under the proposed contract, the town would have spent $3 million to purchase 62 acres at the corner of Stevens Mill and Stallings roads, with the remaining 21 acres donated. Stallings would have eight months under the proposal to buy the propoerty. While the town did enter into a verbal agreement with the landowner, nothing was finalized.
“We were all on board with this to begin with,” council member Renee Hartis said. “I understand some have changed their minds but there’s really nothing black and white that’s going to tell us for an absolute fact it’s a good idea.”
Coming into March, the town had letters of interest from four potential stakeholders; Indian Trail based Carolina Courts, Porter Ridge Athletic Association, Landmark Development and the John Owens Baseball Group. Carolina Courts, currently in Indian Trail, must move because of the impending start of the Monroe Bypass. But a lawsuit has delayed the start of construction until October, relieving that urgency.
“If we’re gonna buy land for Carolina Courts, maybe we should go buy land for a light manufacturing company,” Frost said.
Council member Wyatt Dunn pointed out there weren’t a lot of companies coming to town.
“They’re not beating our door down, Carolina Courts is,’ Dunn said. “I have no problem looking at a reduced model (for the sportsplex),” Dunn said. “I just don’t want us to table it and (find) we’ve lost the opportunity.”
Council members voted not to move forward with the land purchase, however the town’s Finance Committee will continue to examine the concept, intending to bring in National Amateur Sports for a discussion about ways to amend the idea. Then it could possibly be brought back to the council for discussion in the future.