By Mike Heine
(Published March 6, 2007, 4:43 p.m.)
Despite continued public comments and letters to local newspapers opposing Intersport's proposed multi-sport complex, company officials remain confident the Walworth County Board will approve their plan.
"We are equally confident now as we were when it was approved (in concept)," said Steve Colombo, company president of baseball operations.
Intersport and the county are finalizing a lease-to-buy land contract for 250 acres of county-owned property near of the judicial center on County NN. The contract could go to the county board for a vote at its monthly meeting Tuesday, March 13.
"We're hopeful to get something back in March. That'll depend on how negotiations go," County Administrator David Bretl said.
At its January meeting, the county board approved, in concept, Intersport's proposal to build at least 10 baseball diamonds and 25 player cabins on what now are farm fields.
Since the county board vote, opponents have remained outspoken, particularly about the purchase price of $3,000 per acre.
County officials admit the price is below market value for agricultural land in the area.
"As to whether or not this is the best deal the county could or ever would get for the farm land, you can always come up with different scenarios," Bretl said. "Clearly, I don't think there is any question we could sell it as home sites for more."
Bretl said the county board would have to balance the sale price of the property with the economic boost from Intersport. With all phase 1 player cabins filled for 11 weeks in summer, Intersport projects $6.3 million would be added to the local economy.
Critics say the county is considering a deal that favors Intersport more than taxpayers.
Harold Smage of Elkhorn wrote in a letter to the editor: "Intersport is very capable of paying a going price for land and still make a remarkable return on their investment. They drive a hard, unconscionable bargain."
Intersport officials say such views are short sighted.
"They're only looking at the dollar part of the land deal and are not looking at the economic impact for the community because of the existence of this project," said Dave Boblink, Intersport chief financial officer. "The way they characterize it is as a straight land sale, and the county is being paid an unfair amount for the land. That's not the case."
Boblink noted performance benchmarks that Intersport would have to meet before it could buy the land from Walworth County.
The conceptual proposal requires Intersport to build 10 diamonds and 25 player cabins, which Boblink says will cost at least $7 million, and prove that its operation has brought $6.3 million into the county. Until those criteria are met, Intersport can only rent the property for $180 per acre annually plus the added costs of inflation. The lease would last for 99 years.
Some residents are worried that Intersport will develop its ball diamonds, buy the land and then sell to another developer for a profit, leaving the county unable to intervene in a future sale.
"If Intersport does not pan out, they can turn around and sell it for development to whomever they want. How sweet is that?" wrote Larry Vant, Elkhorn.
Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and television production company, has no intention to deviate from its plan, Boblink said.
It wouldn't make sense for the company to invest millions in the property, build the business to a point where it's generating $6.3 million for the economy, buy the property and then bulldoze it all to sell it to another developer, Boblink said.
"That idea really becomes far-fetched," he said.