Sussex County Council narrowly approved a $1.5 million construction loan agreement with the Sussex Sports Center Foundation to build a new sports complex in Georgetown. The $4 million complex will be located off Sand Hill Road within town limits.
Under terms of a 60-page agreement, the county will forgive payments on the 50-year loan, at zero-percent interest, for the first 10 years and then have the option to forgive the loan and purchase the complex for $1. If the complex is not taken over by the county, the foundation will make a $37,500 annual payment to the county.
A 3-2 vote came after a heated debate during council's Feb. 20 meeting.
County funds will be available after the foundation has spent the first $1.5 million on construction. The foundation is charged with operation of the complex in the public-private partnership.
The 56-acre complex will include eight sports fields, parking for 350 vehicles, pickleball courts, restrooms and a 3-mile trail, which will be certified and can be used by high school cross country teams. The Bermuda grass fields will be available to soccer, lacrosse and field hockey teams and leagues. Joe Schell donated the land to kick start the project.
Councilman I.G. Burton, R-Lewes, said the memorandum of understanding and contract had been fully vetted and he had complete confidence in the proposal.
Council President Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, recognized approving the loan was a big step for the county. “But it’s nowhere near as big a step if we got in the parks-and-recreation business,” he said.
“It's received scrutiny from the Town of Georgetown and scrutiny from Sussex County government,” said Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View. “This is an asset adding to the quality of life in Sussex County.”
Councilmen Burton, Vincent and Cole voted in favor of the agreement. Councilmen Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, and Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, voted against it.
Wilson and Arlett attempted to postpone a vote on the contract, but the motion failed 3-2.
Wilson said he was concerned that every town in Sussex County would approach county council to help build a sports complex.
“Why are we in such a rush?” Wilson asked. “If we are spending $1.5 million of taxpayers’ money, we should spend time talking about it.”
Wilson said he was also concerned the complex would compete with private enterprise such as nearby Sports at the Beach, which also offers pickleball.
Arlett said he supported the project but voted against it because the public didn't have a chance to review and comment on the contract prior to council action. “We should hold off – it's not been fully vetted,” Arlett said.
County Administrator Todd Lawson told council that on Feb. 14 Georgetown officials approved a memorandum of understanding with the foundation that includes $440,000 in cash and services paid out over a 10-year period. Services would include such items as trash pickup, utilities and impact fee rebates, Lawson said.
Financial support from Georgetown officials was a key element requested by council.
Burton clears the air
Burton said he wanted to clear up misinformation he said was reported on local radio talk show programs and social media.
He said his wife does not work for a Schell Brothers company. “She was employed by Ocean Atlantic and quit before the memorandum of understanding vote,” he said.
In addition, he said, the action is not a way to create a parks-and-recreation department. “That's not the plan. The plan is to allow the foundation to run this without county government starting a parks-and-recreation program. The public-private partnership is what interests me,” he said.
Wilson wants road upgrade
Wilson said he would like to see the Sand Hill Road-Route 9-Airport Road intersection improved soon – not 10 years from now. The intersection is about one-half mile from the sports complex.
County attorney J. Everett Moore told Wilson that prior to settlement, the foundation will be required to commit to road improvements or the deal would not proceed.
At a previous meeting, Foundation Vice President Bobby Horsey said the foundation is in the process of purchasing right-of-way to allow for intersection improvements. That land would be deeded to the Delaware Department of Transportation.
In addition, DelDOT officials said they have applied for a federal grant to do the work.