As the license agreement for a proposed $22 million sports complex in Middleburg, Fla., expires in a week, county officials are discussing the future of the controversial facility.
Clay County Development Authority is meeting Tuesday afternoon to address residents’ complaints about the complex. Big League Dreams, a private company from California, proposed constructing the facility with county funds last December.
According to the proposal, the complex would be located near Branan Field-Chaffe Road and Old Jennings Road and include baseball fields, food vendors and restroom facilities. The park would also serve as a venue for corporate parties.
The complex could cost as much as $25 million of tax payers’ dollars, $3 million more than originally proposed, according to a report by Mike Price, the Clay County commission auditor.
“It’s just not right,” said Clay County Commissioner Ronnie Robinson.
With stacks of folders, 11 blown-up photos of present complexes and piles of newspapers on his desk, Robinson said he has thoroughly researched the project, which he opposes.
Robinson said both Florida State Sen. Rob Bradley, the project’s attorney, and former Clay County Commissioner Travis Cummings have approached him about supporting the complex.
“As of now, if the plan was voted on today, it would pass with a vote of 4 to 1,” he said. “To be honest, this plan couldn’t be any less transparent to the public. This is not being built for the kids of Clay County – this is a business. End of story.”
Joe Riley, a resident of Clay County and car salesman in St. Johns County, said he started looking into the project during the proposal’s initial development in June 2013.
Riley said the Middleburg complex was originally pitched as a place for children, but according to Big League Dreams data, less than 7 percent of typical park patrons are younger than 18. The majority of users are instead males between the ages 25 and 36.
“Softball and beer – that’s what this project is all about,” he said.
According to its website, the company has built 11 sports complexes throughout the nation. Eight in California and the other three in Texas, Nevada and Arizona.
WUFT attempted to contact Big League Dreams, but the company did not respond.
Kerri Stewart, Clay County development authority spokesperson, said the potential complex would bring economic growth rather than waste county tax dollars.
Regardless of the possible $3 million spending increase, an economic impact study funded by the county displayed positive potential economic development for the county should the complex be constructed.
According to the study, in its first year of business, the park’s estimated ad valorem tax revenue would be about $1.5 million, sales tax revenue from in-park spending would be about $70,000, and tourist-development tax revenue would be about $363,000.
Stewart said the development authority expects the park’s revenue to increase annually.
The complex would also create jobs and be an attraction for Clay County because it would be the first of its kind in Florida, Stewart said.
According to the proposal, the Clay County Development Authority – Big League Dreams’ public partner – plans to own and construct the complex at county taxpayers’ expense.
The proposal also states the private company will share park revenue with the county and the development authority in order to cover the cost of construction.
Stewart said the current licensing agreement expires March 31.
Big League Dreams can either extend the date or the development authority can terminate the agreement with no financial repercussion. Should the development authority deem the proposal viable, it will be forwarded to the Clay County Commission for consideration, Stewart said.
Skylar Zander, a Clay County soil and water conservation supervisor, said the park’s land was free and the county investment would only be spent on infrastructure projects, such as roads and park facilities.
“This would be a great economic development tool the county can use to advance tourism and bring in outside companies such as hotels, arcades, restaurants and maybe even a water park,” he said.