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Charlotte Area

This Week's Troubles Heighten Scrutiny Of Amateur Sports Deal

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This week, while problems with two of Charlotte’s major economic development deals held the spotlight, the City Council also considered entering a third. The council’s economic development committee met Thursday to discuss creating an amateur sports complex in east Charlotte. But after this week’s turmoil, there were plenty of skeptics.

The city has been working on a deal for more than a year with a company called GoodSports. The plan calls for building a fieldhouse, basketball courts, and a hotel around Bojangles Coliseum to attract major youth and amateur sports tournaments and bring business to a rundown area.

“I believe we have all of the ingredients,” GoodSports Vice President Anthony Homer told the committee. “It’s the right time; it’s the right place; and, I know we’ve got the right team.”

But the council members were not sold.

Councilman Al Austin pointed out GoodSports was the only company the city could find that was interested.

“That doesn’t seem to me to be an overwhelming response that amateur sports is where Charlotte needs to be looking,” Austin said

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble argued it presents an opportunity to be first.

“The market just hasn’t yet grabbed amateur sports,” said Kimble. “I think it’s something that’s on the move, and we have to decide if we’re willing to be one of the first entrants into this kind of marketplace.”

Some council members support the idea, but are skeptical of Charlotte’s partner. GoodSports has mostly been involved in managing hotels. And, it’s struggled to build similar amateur sports projects in at least four other states. Newspaper articles from Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, and Missouri tell similar stories of delays and financing struggles.

But city staff vouch for the deal in Charlotte.

“Often times in these complicated projects you take two steps forward and then one step back,” says Pat Mumford, Charlotte director of business services. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work or anyone was wrong, that’s just the nature of this.”

Mumford says GoodSports has secured financing in Charlotte.

Councilwoman Claire Fallon says the council has to be more careful, after a tough week for two of its major economic deals, and she will not vote for the deal.

“For me it’s dead, all right?” said Fallon.

Wednesday, fruit company Chiquita announced it will leave, less than three years after arriving. Monday, the council voted to waive millions of dollars of debt owed on the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I’m not voting for anything more the same way we got stuck with NASCAR,” says Fallon.

Economic development committee chairman Michael Barnes was more measured, saying he wants to wait to see the final terms of the deal.

Right now, the city and company have worked out the meat: They will split the $77 million cost about evenly. GoodSports would put up a bond to ensure it follows through with its end and would not receive city money until after it completes the project. Barnes lauds that start.

“I think what we’re waiting for is for them to give us the answers that we need and want, and they did a lot of that today,” Barnes said.

Those answers all came during the meeting; after, GoodSports executives fled from further questions.

But more answers will come before any deal is approved—the committee decided to postpone any votes until they get more information. The full city council will take that vote next week.