I got a good chuckle when I recently read media reports of Wolftever Development principals going around to Hamilton County officials shopping a grand plan to build a regional sports complex in Camp Jordan.
John Healy and his partners Matt and Ethan Wood, recently met with Commissioner Tim Boyd explaining that this sports complex would include a 5,000 seat stadium for soccer and football, a super-duper track, eight new multi-purpose fields with artificial turf and six more with grass. Four of the fields would be big enough to accommodate a college baseball game.
Oh, and here’s the thing … the price tag is a cool $15 million but it wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. Wolftever is proposing that East Ridge and Hamilton County agree to earmark the property taxes on the build-out of Jordan Crossing be used to pay for a bond.
I’m assuming that the Wood brothers’ construction company, MPL, would be building the new complex. That would be money in their pockets.
The Wolftever guys have the backing of East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he would consider the proposal for the sheer potential of economic development.
I have no doubt the East Ridge City Council will go along with Lambert on the project. That will probably be over the objection of City Manager Scott Miller, whose practice it is to perform due diligence and take a hard look at numbers.
The County Commission may go along with it, too. What do they have to lose? As it stands now, the county is getting next to nothing on property taxes on the 40 acres of dirt that Wolftever has billed as Jordan Crossing.
What happens if the additional property tax generated doesn’t cover the loan payments? What happens if we revisit the economy of 2008, “The Great Recession.” What happens if Jordan Crossing never gets built? What happens if the developers go bankrupt?
I’ll tell you what happens, the taxpayers of East Ridge are on the hook to pay back 15 million bucks.
I’ve sat in Industrial Development Board meetings where the developers encouraged the City to borrow as much money as it can get its hands on over the next six years. The idea is the state will reimburse the city every dime under the Border Region Act. Over the last two years the city has been reimbursed to the tune of about $2 million. But remember, Wolftever gets $412,000 of that each and every year for the next 20 years.
I’ll give Wolftever credit for the Bass Pro Shops. It’s a fantastic addition to East Ridge. The developers have razed an old hotel across Camp Jordan Parkway where an 88-room hotel will presumably be built. That’s progress.
But I’ve grown weary of the promises of a building boom that the Border Region Act was to bring. After all, it was October of 2010 when then-City Attorney John Anderson took the Wood brothers by the hand and brought them to the city with their sky-is-the-limit mindset.
The City coughed up $5 million for Bass Pro, just for starters. The Wood brothers said they needed a new, bigger, wider Camp Jordan Parkway to accommodate all the traffic coming into the complex. They said it would cost $1 million. They paid for the engineering on the project. It ended up costing more than $2 million. We’re still not done … an extra $700,000 is being devoted to landscaping, streetscaping and whatnot.
Lambert proposed a reconfiguration of Exit 1 on Interstate 75. At the time he said that it would be good for the Jordan Crossing Development, but regardless, the city needed the reconfiguration to facilitate better traffic flow. An initial price tag of about $2 million was floated and the city asked Hamilton County and TDOT to partner. The county agreed. But the price tag has ballooned and now East Ridge is on the hook for an extra million. City Manager Miller said recently in a council meeting that the city would scale down its beautification project at the exit and reach into the fund balance to cover the extra costs.
I’ve sat in council meetings where Healy has said time after time that the developers would have a major announcement in coming weeks of some new retail store or restaurant that would be coming to Jordan Crossing. In one meeting, Healy said that Zaxby’s had signed and would build a store across from the Bass Pro.
Over the years I’ve heard everything from a Macy’s to a car dealership would be built in Jordan Crossing.
As it stands right now, we’ve got dirt.
Wise men have told me that nothing is going to be built at Jordan Crossing until Exit 1 is reconfigured. It stands to reason if you can’t get potential customers to the store it ain’t going to work.
City officials have said that the Exit 1 project is going out for bid this month. That’s a step in the right direction. When that project will be completed is anyone’s guess.
What I don’t understand is why Wolftever is now pressing for a regional sports complex in Camp Jordan. Can we not take things one step at a time?
Oh, maybe the real reason that Wolftever wants a “big draw” like a sports complex for the city is that all those people will have to drive right through the proposed Jordan Crossing retail district.