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Graham sports complex runs into a problem
July 7, 2011By Cavalier Dave Forrester of Hugh M Cummings High School
Graham leaders upset by changes in sports, senior complex Project planner missed meeting to discuss permit
By Jay Ashley Times-News
GRAHAM - A sports complex the city leased property to and agreed to assist financially has failed to get construction financing after two years and seeks to move to a new location, raising the ire of a councilman.
Councilman Vic Euliss blasted Mid State Magic Sports Inc. in a Tuesday council meeting during a hearing from the group to get a special-use permit to construct the project near Hawfields.
In May 2009, Graham leaders agreed to lease 3.65 acres on Gilbreath Street near Interstate 40/85 and pay $400,000 toward a sports and seniors activities complex to be built by the nonprofit organization. The City Council agreed to a $1-ayear lease and payments of $200,000 at loan closing and $200,000 at completion of the project.
On Tuesday, a request on the council meeting agenda called for a hearing from Mid State to get a special-use permit to construct the project on 19 acres bounded by Trollingwood, Jimmie Kerr and Ralph Scott Roads, in the neighborhood of the Flying J Travel Center.
According to Bill Teer, of the city's Planning and Zoning Board, the request was voted down by his board by a 7-0 vote after "no one showed up to answer any questions" on the project, and the board and neighbors "had many, many, many questions" about the shape of ballfields, lighting and traffic patterns to name a few.
Jay Guffey, of Davis-Martin-Powell & Associates, who drew plans for the project, apologized, saying a miscommunication in his office made him miss the P&Z meeting.
John Lewis, representing Mid State owner Rod Cousin, said the project "expanded from its original scope" and the Gilbreath Street property could not be used "because of the type of financing sought" which was linked to census demographics.
He said the proposed complex would now be more "like a YMCA without aquatics" and with memberships that would average "about $30."
He said in addition to playing fields, there would be adult and senior programs. He offered a timetable of 12 to 14 months for construction.
In the May 2009 agreement, Mid State agreed to use the Gilbreath Street facility to sponsor AAU basketball games, but allow the city access to the complex. According to the agreement, all seniors 55 and older would have free access to an upstairs walking track, weight room, cardio room, restrooms, locker rooms and the senior citizen meeting room Monday through Friday. The Graham Senior Nutrition program would also use the room, which would accommodate at least 50 seniors. The city's recreation and parks department would also have access to the facility on varying schedules, according to Mid State's AAU needs.
The council, at the time, generally viewed the publicprivate deal as a "win-win," with the facility offering a center for senior citizens, which the city had been wanting to provide.
"I understood at the time that the project was ready to go if we had the land," Euliss said. "It bothers me extensively now that this had been thrown back at us with the economy as bad as it is."
He continued, "If we lose money on this, we should have the ability to recoup our loss from Mid State."
At the time, the project was hailed by City Manager Chris Rollins as giving the city "access to a first-class facility that we had not planned to otherwise build."
Euliss said he voted for the project because he thought funding was in place "and now the props fell out." He was also upset that seniors - the main reason for backing the project - would face having to use a busy interstate to get to the facility, which is farther from the city.
The land Mid State wants in the Hawfields area belongs to Henderson Scott, who was ill and could not attend the meeting.
Mayor Jerry Peterman echoed Euliss' assessment, saying he felt the city had been "led to believe it was a turn-key thing."
"The senior center we backed is not part of the project," he pointed out.
Mayor pro tem Jimmy Linens said "the past is not what is transpiring here" now, pointing out the city "still has the land and won't lose money" on the deal. "The project is still good for Graham. We can't do anything about what has happened."
Linens proposed sending the request back to planning and zoning for a more complete evaluation and with members of Mid State and Davis-Martin-Powell & Associates present to answer all questions.
"There are too many questions," he concluded.
The council, including Euliss, agreed to let the matter be returned to planning and zoning.
The city staff said they could get up signs and proper advance advertising to bring people to the July 19 planning board meeting. The council will take up the matter again at its Aug. 2 meeting.