County council votes to pursue MOU for sports complex

Date Published: 
Jan. 25, 2018

After months of discussion, the Sussex County Council voted earlier this week, 3-2, to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Sussex Sports Complex Foundation, to loan the organization funding for construction of the facility in Georgetown.

County Administrator Todd Lawson said that, while conversations related to the complex began in 2016, the idea was first officially presented before the council on Sept. 26, 2017.

The facility would be located on 56 acres of land donated by Joe Schell to the foundation. It would include playing fields for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and informal touch-football games, as well as walking trails, pickleball courts and playground equipment. The center would have eight regulation-size soccer/lacrosse fields and paved parking for approximately 350 cars.

The project, in total, would cost an estimated $4 million to construct, with 60 percent of the funds to come from private-sector donations. The foundation is seeking 40 percent in public-sector contributions — $275,000 from the State of Delaware, $25,000 from the Town of Georgetown and $1.5 million from Sussex County.

Foundation representatives have said the County would have the option to purchase the complex from the foundation for $1 if it decided it wanted get into the parks-and-rec business. The property itself is located within the town of Georgetown.

Lawson said that before the County’s proposed $1.5 million loan, the foundation would have to raise and spend $1.5 million. The County would then process payments after invoices were received (in $100,000 increments). The foundation would be responsible for any expenses after $3 million.

The $1.5 million loan would have a 0-percent interest rate for 50 years, with no payments needing to made in the first 10 years. There would be a lien placed on the property. The proposed MOU would give the County the ability to purchase the complex after 10 years, at that cost of $1; however, the loan would be forgiven in its entirety. If the County does not purchase the facility, the yearly payments to the County would be $37,500.

The foundation board would only be allowed 15 members, two of whom would be from the County.

“The MOU presents the business terms, the understanding that the County and foundation have entered into this agreement, which includes the loan and lending of the funds as I’ve described,” explained Lawson. “The contract itself is the legal, financial document that cauterizes those legal, financial terms, akin to most mortgages or a contractual arrangement you would see.”

Councilman Rob Arlett asked if there was anything in writing from the Delaware Department of Transportation regarding its commitment to helping with road improvements.

“I don’t have anything in writing according to DelDOT’s commitment,” said Lawson.

Councilman George Cole said he would like to see an addendum to the contract that would include addressing DelDOT and stormwater requirements.

“Any project that is going to go forward, as you know, would have to have DelDOT approval, stormwater approval. Before one ounce of dirt is moved, the foundation is going to have to have those approvals,” said Lawson. “We’re not shepherding this project at all. It’s going to be up to the foundation.”

Councilman I.G. Burton said this is the first private-public partnership the County has entered into, and it’s “a big ask.”

“In my opinion it’s a good use of Sussex County tax dollars… I think this is a really good thing, and we’ve spent a good amount of time trying to make sure everybody understands what we’re doing, because it’s a lot of money. I, personally, would like to thank Joe Schell, the foundation, Mr. Lawson. The persistence and patience for this project has been tight.”

“I’m convinced that we’ll look back on this decision as a good one. I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Burton, who voted to in favor of the County entering into the MOU and drafting a legal contract related to the loan.

Council President Michael Vincent and Cole also voted in favor of the motion, while Councilman Sam Wilson and Arlett voted in opposition.

“I think a lot is positive about this,” said Vincent.