Friday, March 16, 2007

Why did Intersport strike out?

Following their very public and vocal opposition to a plan for a youth sports complex outside of Elkhorn, opponents claimed victory Tuesday night for killing the project--perhaps for good.

That's not to say there wasn't support for the project. It just wasn't public, which probably did the plan in.

Those who wanted to see the Intersport Champions Village rise in the farm fields surrounding the Walworth County Complex could learn a lesson from their opponents about grass-roots politics.

Those opposed weren't part of an organized effort either, making it all that more powerful. Simply a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease? Maybe so. And it worked.

The sheer number of letters opposing the Intersport plan overwhelmed those supporting it in our letters to the editor section over the last two months. The same was true for postings to our Web site.

Ultimately, the persistent opposition in the newspapers, and direct lobbying of county board supervisors, convinced enough of them to change their minds Tuesday and un-approve the concept that they had approved in January.

Now the ball is back in Intersport's court and it looks like they're going to take their ball and find somewhere else to play.

The main beef against the plan was the $3,000 per acre price that developers would have been able to buy the land for should the project have been a success. What was characterized as a corporate give-away didn't sit too well with many.

The argument that the $3,000 per acre price was an investment in economic development never gained any traction.

We've saved some soybeans for now, but time will tell if a better deal will come along.

If the county sells the land at fair market value down the road, to whom would they sell?

Look at the two other recent large-scale development proposals to hit Walworth County for a clue.

Would industry want that land, like the proposed ethanol plant in Sharon? Would that have greater benefit than a sports complex?

Or what about a large-scale housing development, similar to Sho-Deen's development in Delavan Township? Along with that would come the need for services and schools.

Will the next proposal have the potential for significantly benefiting local small businesses and their employees that are the backbone of our economy?

Keep in mind that because tourism and recreation are such a big part of Walworth County already, the infrastructure and background to grow those market segments are already in place.

During the run-up to Tuesday's vote, we heard from people on both sides of the issues wanting to influence our coverage.

The problem with that approach is that issues like Intersport are what I call fair-fight issues. There are valid arguments both for and against.

Rather than picking a side, I see our role in these debates as both providing a forum for residents to express their opinions on these issues as well as providing coverage that attempts to give a factual basis to the debate.

If both sides are accusing us of not taking their side, we must be doing a good job.

Growth and development issues have driven the political agenda in Walworth County as a long as I've been an observer. What has changed is that public perception is more of a force than it was decades ago.

As the Intersport opponents showed, harnessing public opinion can be a powerful force.

~Dan Plutchak, editor


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