Potential developers for a proposed athletic complex at an undisclosed site are scheduled to give a presentation to the Worcester County Commissioners in August, Commissioner President Joe Mitrecic said during their Tuesday meeting.
The commissioners discussed the matter at the end of the meeting after all official business for the day was finished.
The project is still shrouded in plenty of mystery as the county moves along with its second appraisal of the property — required to secure Project Open Space funding — and talks continue with the property’s owner.
While past discussions have suggested that a majority of the commissioners could be in favor of an athletic complex, the commissioners are electing to not officially name the location of the property while so much of the potential deal remains uncertain.
Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if a public hearing was necessary before acquiring the property.
“There doesn’t need to be,” county attorney Roscoe Leslie said. “The commissioners can have a public hearing if they want to.”
Mitrecic said he had assumed “from day one” that a public hearing would be necessary, but incoming Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young replied that, in his experience, public hearings are typically legally necessary when a government is disposing of a property, not when it acquires one.
“During the talks to purchase the property, we can’t identify their property,” Mitrecic said. “So a public hearing would be just about the concept — nothing about where it went, how it went or whatever else … Until (we can) purchase a piece of property and have it contracted I don’t see how we could have a public hearing.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting asked if a public hearing could be scheduled after having a contract in place but before actually signing it.
“After the appraisals are done, after a negotiation is completed and after we identify Project Open Space money [being available] after everything is basically done and having a public hearing on it, then yes, we could always at that point back out,” Mitrecic said.
Mitrecic, Young and Leslie recently met with representatives from two companies — one that builds and designs athletic complexes and another that runs them. Mitrecic described the meeting as an idea swap with the county letting them know what they’re looking for and the companies letting them know what is within their capabilities.
Mitrecic stressed that the meeting was important for the developers so that they could hone in on the specific needs of the county. The developers are aware that the complex must be run privately, he said.
"One of the things we pressed with them is we want our residents to be able to use the fields whenever there are not tournaments going on,” Mitrecic said. “If a tournament goes from Thursday to Sunday, from Monday to Wednesday our residents can use the fields in any form or fashion … Once they come and do their presentation you can go online and see some of the things that they run. There was discussion about water parks on site, RV parking on site … different things, whether we’re interested in putting a hotel on site, a lot of different things that they had questions on so they could (more specifically target) their presentation.”
Bertino expressed concern that the framework for the potential complex is being molded with a few county representatives and not the entire commissioner body.
“They’re being given thoughts and comments by two or three people and not all seven of us,” Bertino said. “That’s an observation, not a criticism.”
Young broke down the process ahead of the county for securing Project Open Space funds and acquiring the property.
"In my mind, the first step logistically is can we acquire the property. That’s the second appraisal, that’s that conversation. If the owner isn’t willing to sell or something comes up, that site’s dead in the water and we need to move elsewhere,” he said. “The second part of Project Open Space is for development purposes, that would be helping build the fields and so forth. Unrelated to Open Space would be how do we operate it at that point. I don’t know if Open Space is going to ask us for the full game plan before we acquire it. I would have to ask Recreation and Parks staff first.”
After being corrected on describing the complex as “privately funded” versus "privately run,” Bertino asked Mitrecic how he distinguished the two terms.
“I don’t know if we can use Project Open Space money for a privately funded complex,” Mitrecic said. “The thought process is that we hire a management company to privately run it … [We told the developers] this has to be privately run, the county can’t be involved in running it.”
Young added that a lot of these answers will likely come from the August presentation.
“We may say we don’t want an RV park, we don’t want a hotel, we don’t want a water park, a dog park. We want ballfields to attract tournaments, a community walking path, a community playground, something of that nature,” Young said. "But they can at least show you what they’ve done elsewhere and explain their business model, which a lot of my questions were tied to — how do they operate, do they have enough profit to give back to the community, and it sounds like it is something that they’re able to do.”