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Plant City Observer Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018 2 months ago

Plant City steps up to the plate

The game is officially underway. Plant City commissioners approved a development agreement with GCJ Sports, LLC to spur the creation of the Gary Sheffield Sports Village.
by: Breanne Williams Staff Writer

The highly anticipated Sports Village is one step closer to becoming a reality after commissioners approved a development agreement with GCJ Sports, LLC on Monday evening.

It’s the first step of a very long journey. City Manager Bill McDaniel compared the process to the city reaching first base. The game has begun, but they’re far from crossing home plate.

“We want everybody to understand what happened (Monday night) was the first step, it’s not the be-all end-all, the whole deal is not done,” McDaniel said. “That critical next step with the financing can determine everything. After that we’ve got all of the permitting, SWFWMD reviews… We’re probably two years from turning dirt from (Monday) night. That is very much the first step.”

Even the metaphor of the city being on first base may be optimistic. It’s more like the city and the developer spent the last several months agreeing to play ball, have gotten the teams together, ordered jerseys, written a lineup and Monday night they jogged out to take their place on the field. The umpire has yelled, “Play ball,” but until the developer acquires funding a pitch has yet to be thrown.

If everything goes according to plan, in January the commission will review the financing acquired by the developer.

Then the lender, the developer and the city will work hand-in-hand to move toward the next step, text and map amendment approvals, which is estimated to be handled in October of 2019. The city will approve the master development plan, but the lender will be driving the deal. Through all of this McDaniel and several other commissioners assured residents Plant City has protections “baked into the agreement” so it in no way takes a loss if things go awry.

By 2021 the city may see shovels in the dirt and the estimated completion date for the minimum development is currently October of 2024.

The development agreement approved Monday night said GCJ Sports, LLC must complete at least $50 million worth of development in five years. James Talton, of GCJ Sports, said they plan to exceed the minimum estimate and are aiming to bring anywhere from $100 million to $120 million worth of development to the location for the first phase.

The proposed concept for Sports Village will feature items like a minimum of eight ball fields, a field house, training and rehabilitation facilities, dormitories, villas for work staff, a hotel and retail and dining locations.

If GCJ Sports is able to complete the minimum development in five years the city will give them the approximately 133 acres the village will sit on. From there, it’s in GCJ’s hands. The company can continue to grow the facility or it can choose to stick with its initially completed venue.

Commissioners also crossed another major hurdle Monday night when they approved McDaniel to pay off the stadium one year early. Finishing the $730,000 payment a year early will save $20,787. The Tourist Development Council routinely sends the money a year in advance and since this was the final payment there was no reason to hold the money until it was due next year. McDaniel found out there were no penalties for early payment so they went ahead and finalized the bill.

As development progresses, GCJ can choose to keep the current stadium or build anew, but the facility is now debt-free.

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