Charlotte moves closer to amateur sports complex with hotel deal

sharrison@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 14, 2014 

By voting Monday to buy and eventually tear down an Econo Lodge hotel on Independence Boulevard, the Charlotte City Council is making a $3.6 million bet that an amateur sports complex at Bojangles’ Coliseum will come to fruition.

In February 2012, former City Manager Curt Walton took out a $50,000 option to buy the hotel adjacent to Ovens Auditorium. A month later, Walton unveiled a nearly $1 billion capital plan, which included $25 million to remake the area into an amateur sports hub.

Last fall, the city asked developers for proposals for the amateur sports concept, which would include a hotel and a large gymnasium/field house to hold multiple basketball or volleyball games at once.

One developer responded: Good Sports Enterprises, a Florida developer whose parent company, Focus Hotels, builds and manages hotels.

Good Sports proposed spending $72 million to build a 150-room hotel, a 100,000-square-foot field house for indoor sports and 50,000 square feet of retail.

The Sarasota, Fla., company has asked the city to cover 25 percent of the construction cost, which would be $18 million.

The city’s share of the construction costs would come from a 7.25 percent property tax increase passed in the summer of 2013.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said he’s confident that the city and Good Sports can reach an agreement.

“We are confident that we can negotiate a successful partnership with Good Sports,” Kimble said in an email. “If for some reason we are unable to do so, then the (Econo Lodge) site will still be in play for a future partnership with another private developer for amateur sports purposes.”

Anthony Homer, vice president of development at Good Sports, said the company plans to build 25 amateur sports complexes nationwide. The company hasn’t yet built one, but Homer said Good Sports has reached deals to build sports complexes in Wichita, Kan., and Huber Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton.

Homer said he is encouraged by the city’s decision to buy the hotel.

“The city has shown their commitment to amateur sports,” said Homer, who added there are a lot of “moving pieces” to make the project a reality.

In November 2012, the City Council and Mecklenburg County spent $2.26 million to buy two properties on Independence Boulevard across from Bojangles’ Coliseum: The Charlotte Inn Hotel and a shuttered IHOP.

Residents of Commonwealth Park, which is adjacent to the properties, had complained the buildings were eyesores and that the hotel was a magnet for crime. The buildings have since been demolished.

The Econo Lodge is still open and not considered a significant nuisance, Kimble said.

The city is buying the hotel and 6.84 acres for $3.05 million from BVB Properties. The city has budgeted $550,000 to demolish the hotel and clean up the site.

For the next year, the city plans to lease the hotel back to BVB Properties for $2,500 a month.

For much of the $816 million capital plan to move forward, voters must approve bonds, starting in November. But the Bojangles’ project is funded from Certificates of Participation, which don’t require voter approval.

Amateur sports are one of the biggest draws for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

The town of Matthews recently opened a $32 million Sportsplex that is expected to draw soccer and other outdoor sports tournaments.

The city’s original plan for Bojangles’ was to raise the floor of the arena, which would create more floor space to hold numerous games simultaneously.

But Good Sports has proposed leaving the arena untouched. It would build a new structure on the site of the arena parking lot that would house the gymnasium, hotel, parking and retail space.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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