Sussex considers partnership with sports complex

GEORGETOWN — Sussex County Council opted to stay in the game as the potential $1.5 million loaner in a private-public partnership for the construction a multi-faceted sports complex on the outskirts of Georgetown.

Council, by a 4-1 vote, authorized Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson to draft a memorandum of understanding with the Sussex Sports Center Foundation.

The potential partnership could be the first step in a county-based parks and recreation initiative.

The MOU is a precursor to finalized details and terms of the agreement that will come back before county council for final approval.

“We are at an MOU level right now,” said M. Lawson, noting there is “very little commitment on county’s part at this point. But it does mean we are moving forward. But the real terms of this arrangement will be spelled out in a contract that will be drafted and presented to you at a future date for another vote.”

On Sept. 26, Sussex Sports Center Foundation members Joe Schell and Bobby Horsey approached the county for a $1.5 million grant in support of the estimated $4 million project.

Located north of the CHEER Community Center on land donated by Mr. Schell of the Schell business family, the sports complex would feature eight Bermuda grass fields, 3.1 miles of walking trails, eight pickleball courts and ancillary facilities including bathrooms.

At a follow-up presentation Nov. 14, county council, at the suggestion of councilman George Cole, felt more comfortable with a loan agreement as opposed to an outright grant.

Under proposed terms, after the Sussex Sports Center Foundation spends an initial $1.5 million, county loan money would be available in $100,000 increments through documented invoices. The loan would be for 40 years at zero percent interest with $37,500 annual payments.

There would be no loan payments for the first five years; any year when the Sussex Sports Center Foundation has an operating loss, which would extend loan terms another year; or when the foundation’s contingency fund is below $400,000.

“Said another way, if there are no losses and the contingency fund is fully funded at the $400,000 level then they would be required to make a loan payment,” said Mr. Lawson.

Council members piped in with questions.

“If they are not turning ‘quote-unquote’ profits to be able to pay for this, there is no ‘quote-unquote’ penalty, it is just extended? And that is indefinite?” asked county councilman Rob Arlett.

“That is correct,” said Mr. Lawson.

“For 100 years, in theory?” inquired Mr. Arlett.

“In theory, yes,” replied Mr. Lawson.

Mr. Cole asked if it is conceivable the foundation might not need the county’s $1.5 million to complete their project.

“The way that we are framing the proposal today, the intent is they would access all of the funds,” Mr. Lawson said. “If in fact something happens that they don’t need to access all of the funds, that is on them. They are not going to get a blank check for $1.5 million. They are going to be reimbursed as they start to spend their money down after they have spent $1.5 million of their own.”

Under the proposal, the county will place a lien on the property. The loan would be forgiven if the county purchases the property for $1.

Councilman Samuel Wilson Jr. opposed the MOU proposal. “I think we ought to look at this a little deeper than what we are doing,” Mr. Wilson said. “We’re sitting here asleep, it seems to me.”

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