Cary News

Holly Springs, Morrisville want county money for athletics projects

Investors and officials from two western Wake County towns hope to leave Monday’s County Commissioners meeting with money for major athletics projects.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners has nearly $8 million in available hotel and restaurant tax revenues that could be invested into local capital projects.

In the past, the board has funneled the money to projects such as the Raleigh Convention Center, WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary and Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh.

Four groups are in the running for the money this year. Commissioners are expected to decide to fund one, several or none of the projects at their meeting on Monday.

Holly Springs is asking for $2.8 million to help fund an $8 million outdoor stadium known as the North Main Athletic Complex. The stadium will be home to a Coastal League baseball team and will include two regulation-size soccer fields and 12 tennis courts.

The project will go on with or without county funding, but Holly Springs wants additional money to reinstate special features such as a beer garden, a children’s playground and landscaping that were recently removed from the project due to cash constraints.

Morrisville is asking for $3 million to help fund a $13.99 million indoor sports complex proposed by Ammons Building Corp.

The complex would include two NHL-size ice rinks, a volleyball court and gymnastics facilities. Other features – if not the entire project – hinge on whether commissioners decide to fund the project, said developer Jeff Ammons.

If commissioners don’t fund the project, “It would probably mean we’d limit our seating significantly and therefore our parking,” he said.

The board is also considering a $3 million request from a nonprofit to build a $10 million basketball park in Knightdale, and a $2 million request from N.C. State University to help fund a $9 million plan to expand its Museum of Art & Design.

Ammons hopes commissioners will ignore a recommendation by Wake County staff to commit $1.5 million to the Knightdale project and save the rest for future projects.

County staff made its recommendation based on how each of the projects stands up against criteria that they spur at least 10,000 annual hotel visits, boost the local economy by $10 million annually and provide the county a return on its investment in tax revenues within five years.

None of the four projects meets each requirement.

But county staff recommended funding Knightdale’s basketball park project because it meets two of the three criteria and falls just short of generating $10 million in annual economic gains, according to staff estimates.

County staff recommended granting only half of what the Knightdale group is requesting largely because its business plan is incomplete.

“The ... (basketball) project creates the biggest potential for a return on investment,” said Joe Durham, deputy county manager. “That’s not to say that the others weren’t worthy (of receiving funding).”

The Morrisville project, known as the Ammons or Wake County Competition Center, was the second-most qualified project, according to county staff.

Commissioner Joe Bryan said he hopes to award $3 million to the Ammons group despite the fact that it doesn’t meet the county’s criteria.

“I thought the Morrisville project showed very well, and I’m inclined to support them,” he said. “I really like the economic impact.”

The Morrisville project could bring about 13,500 people to local hotel rooms and boost the economy by $4.5 million each year.

Town staff has also pointed out that Morrisville generates more hotel and restaurant tax revenues than most other Wake towns but hasn’t pursued a cut of the revenues until this year.

Holly Springs’ chances of receiving county funding appear bleak.

Although the county estimates the North Main Athletic Complex would give the local economy an annual boost of $6.8 million – the second-highest amount of the four proposals – the project would generate the lowest number of hotel room stays.

The town planned to send a letter to each commissioner before Monday’s meeting as a last effort to garner support, said Daniel Weeks, senior programs manager for Holly Springs.

“So we don’t qualify for the $2.8 million,” Weeks said. “At a bare minimum, maybe we qualify for the $894,000 (in tax revenue) that we’ll generate in the next few years.”