Southwest Wake News

Morrisville gets $3M for athletic complex; Holly Springs project gets nothing

Wake County commissioners think a large indoor hockey complex in Morrisville will likely draw tourists to the Triangle.

A baseball stadium for a collegiate summer baseball league in Holly Springs? Not so much.

County Commissioners on Monday granted $3 million to a private investor who plans to build a $13.99 million athletics project in Morrisville.

In a separate vote, they declined to provide financial support to an $8 million outdoor stadium already in progress in Holly Springs.

Commissioners had nearly $8 million in available hotel and restaurant tax revenues that could be invested into local projects. Four groups were in the running for the money this year, and commissioners could have funded one, several or none of them.

The board chose to award a total of $4.5 million: $3 million to the Ammons Building Corp. for the Morrisville project and $1.5 million to developers who hope to build Naismith Legacy Park, a basketball-themed park in Knightdale.

The Naismith group will get another $1.5 million next year once it has established other funding sources.

For Morrisville, the vote breathes life into a project that developer Jeff Ammons has said may have been in jeopardy without county dollars.

Ammons is planning for a complex with two NHL-sized hockey rinks and volleyball and gymnastics facilities. The venue could serve as practice space for the Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s unclear when construction could begin. Ammons didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

The so-called Wake County Competition Center will be “huge” for Morrisville whenever it opens, Mayor Mark Stohlman said.

“To have a project of this magnitude – you’re gonna have an NHL team using it as its practice facility – it’s gonna draw in all sorts of tourists,” he said.

It will also keep homegrown talent in town, he added.

“For years we’ve been shipping our kids off to other places,” Stohlman said. “Now we can keep them here, and we’ll be pleased to have kids from the north coming here (for tournaments).”

Down N.C. 55 in Holly Springs, Mayor Dick Sears was far from pleased.

For months, Sears and the Holly Springs Town Council lobbied county commissioners for help funding the North Main Athletic Complex.

The town sought $2.8 million for several aspects of the project: a road connection to the N.C. 55 Bypass and eventually the N.C. 540 extension; a concessions building that would be used as a beer garden; a children’s playground; and a large scoreboard video screen.

Holly Springs’ pursuits took a hit when Wake County staff predicted the stadium would lead to an average of 5,400 hotel room rentals each year – about 5,000 less than commissioners desired.

The Morrisville project would lead to more than 13,500 hotel stays each year, according to county staff.

In a last-ditch effort before Monday’s meeting, Holly Springs leaders sought to sway commissioners with a letter in which they said county staff underestimated the project’s potential to lure tourists.

“For example, Wake Futbol Club has a contract with the Town of Holly Springs to hold at least four major soccer tournaments at (the stadium) each year for the next ten years,” Sears wrote.

The Democratic minority on the board – Caroline Sullivan, Betty Lou Ward and James West – supported a motion to grant money to Holly Springs.

However, the Republican majority was unswayed.

“It’s so far off of what criteria was set,” Commissioner Rich Gianni said.

Sears said he was “extremely disappointed” but that Holly Springs will continue to search for ways to fund the road connection, beer garden and other features. He said he’s holding out hope the board will consider aiding the project again after elections this fall.

“I’m not giving up just because we got the nay votes,” he said. “Things might change after November.”