Within two weeks, minor league baseball could be on track for downtown Bowling Green - along with millions of dollars in related development.
Rick Kelley, chairman of Play Ball! '05, presented city commissioners with a lineup of powerful interested parties at a nonvoting work session Tuesday afternoon, saying the time has come for a city commitment to a six-block complex linking a baseball stadium, a parking garage, retail and high-end residential development, a hotel and ongoing projects such as Circus Square Park and the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center.
“I can tell you the finances are in place, the developer is in place, the team is in place,” he said.
Investor Art Solomon was on hand to give his commitment to bring a major league affiliate to town for at least 20 years, with the subsequent option for permanent local ownership. Already owner of the Manchester, N.H., Fisher Cats, he has an option to buy a Class A team which would play 71 games a season, he said.
In exchange, Kelley, Solomon and developers want a city commitment to donate some land the city now owns, back the establishment of a special tax district and commit those tax funds to help fund the development.
“I'm hoping that you can take a vote by your April 17 meeting,” Solomon said, noting his option to buy a team runs out at the end of this month.
Kelley outlined other components of the proposal: overall design of the development's look by Looney Ricks Kiss architects, locally based Alliance Corp. as master developer, a 100-room upscale hotel built by Musselman Hotels of Louisville and a financial plan presented by Vince Gabbert of Ross, Sinclaire & Associates financial advisers.
The six-block development bounded by State and Kentucky streets and Sixth and Eighth avenues - with a possible extension over the current site of Bowling Green Municipal Utilities headquarters on Center Street - would include about $11 million in land-buying, Kelley said. Developers already have options to buy most of it, missing only a half-block between Center and College streets, he said.
The overall project would involve $50 million in private investment, including for a 790-car parking garage between SKyPAC and the ballfield, shielded from street view by retail and mixed-use development, Kelley said.
Tommy Gumm, president of Alliance Corp., said his firm could build the garage and some related development, and would seek to use local contractors. David Butler, also from Alliance, said DLR Group would be architects for the 4,000-seat ballpark, which could be open for play in April 2008.
Solomon, president of DSF Real Estate and DSF Sports, said tickets at the ballfield would run from $4 to $12. He would be majority owner of the team, but wants local investors involved too - and after 20 years, local buyers would have the option of buying the team outright, should he or his heirs seek to move or sell it, he said.
Financially, the project would require two big pieces of public investment, according to Gabbert: the issuance of $39 million in bonds, probably to be backed by the Warren County Sports Authority, an arm of county government formed several years ago to back an earlier ballpark proposal; and creation of a tax increment financing district to fund the development for 20 to 30 years.
Kelley said Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon is willing to back the bonded project.
Mayor Elaine Walker said recent General Assembly passage of a regular system for creating tax increment financing districts was the catalyst for this baseball proposal.
A tax increment district, or TIF, would guarantee current tax revenue from a designated area to local governments. But any increase in those revenues could be allocated to cover development costs.
State, city and county taxes on jobs, property income and limited liability entities could fall under a TIF, Gabbert said. He figures that 82 percent of the revenue would come from state taxes, 16 percent from city taxes, and 2 percent from the county.
Commissioner Brian Strow asked how large the TIF could be. Kelley replied that it could cover most of downtown, extending to meet a second TIF that may be created to fund a mixed-use development called The Boulevards at Bowling Green, planned adjacent to Western Kentucky University.
Walker said she understood the legislation to allow districts limited only to the actual area under development, but Kelley said Kentucky Finance Secretary John Farris told him the district could extend beyond that.
Commissioners said they wanted more financial details, especially on the private investment involved. City Manager Kevin DeFebbo said the city must know exactly who's involved and what they'd contribute, and Walker noted that the presented plan had changed somewhat from drafts commissioners saw only a few days ago.
Land acquisition $11M
Parking garage $8M
DRA renovation $1.75M
BGMU headquarters $3M
Office space $6.75M
Retail space $7.32M
Performing Arts Center $28M
Lost River Cave and Valley got the title to an additional 19.5 acres from the city, acquiring land intended for it since 2003, thus clearing the way for major improvements to the tourist attraction.
The cave plans to build a new visitor center with an interactive theater and museum exhibits, and build a new entrance off Dishman Lane, said Rho Lansden, executive director of Lost River.
The attraction, which now gets 77,000 visitors a year, sought this land and adjacent plots since 2000, when Winn-Dixie showed interest in buying it, she said. Using appropriations from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the city bought the land as a buffer zone and Greenway trailhead, but kept the title to it.
Now Lost River will build and maintain that trail, and open its entire valley to the public, Lansden said.
“In effect, the city is getting a 68-acre nature park … without any cost to the taxpayers,” she said.
The measure passed unanimously, getting applause from Lost River board members, guides and supporters. But a later item for a runoff-control wetland near the cave ran into trouble.
City staff recommended a $28,640 bid from Engineering Consulting Services of Lexington to design a wetland for holding and cleaning runoff water from Nashville Road. Commissioners questioned why the lowest bidder wasn't chosen, since it too met the qualifications; Public Works Director Emmett Wood said ECS is much more experienced in building wetlands.
Commissioners unanimously tabled the bid for two weeks, and Wood said he will present a detailed rationale for the choice.
Kenway Contracting will resurface at least 11.5 miles of streets and two miles of alleys next year under a $1.2 million contract approved Tuesday night.
The city had planned to repave almost four miles more, but rising petroleum costs drove up expense for both fuel and asphalt, DeFebbo said.
If prices go down, the contract allows some of that omitted work to be added back in, Wood said.
Old Morgantown Road
Gresham, Smith & Partners of Nashville got the nod to do a preliminary design for widening and improving Old Morgantown Road. The $80,000 bid will cover tentative design for sidewalks and other safety and aesthetic features, with input from residents and interested community groups.
Traffic on the road is up to 9,000 cars a day, DeFebbo said. The widening and other improvements are expected to be finished by 2015, according to a memo from Assistant City Engineer Melissa Cansler.