Sports complex progress follows challenges, cooperation

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The McCook City Council authorized city staff negotiate a purchase agreement with John Walters to purchase property for "public infrastructure projects," including ballpark facilities.

At a special meeting at noon Wednesday, McCook City Manager Nate Schneider gave a public statement detailing the timeline from the beginning discussions of the ballpark to the current plan. He also wanted to dispel rumors and untruths regarding the project. He began by thanking Lloyd and Elizabeth Benjamin for their generosity. 

In 2020, Lloyd Benjamin sparked discussions with city officials in McCook about a potential ballpark project in the area. His generous offer of a $2.5 million donation towards the construction of the ballpark set the wheels in motion for an exciting community endeavor. The project was initially shrouded in secrecy to assess feasibility, with Mr. Benjamin taking the lead on planning and engineering.

The Benjamins’ acquisition of the land in July 2021 marked a significant milestone. However, economic uncertainties and inflation posed challenges in obtaining accurate cost estimates for the project, hampering progress on the initial plans.

The formation of a stakeholder group in late 2021, comprising representatives from various community entities, aimed to define the components of the proposed complex. City staff explored funding options for the project, including assessing the viability of using a portion of a voter-approved sales tax. Estimates suggested the ballpark project would require $15 million, with fundraising efforts led by the College Foundation.

Following the successful passage of a bond in November 2022, stakeholders engaged in multiple meetings to iron out details involving the college, hospital, and foundation. However, challenges related to grant funding, tax exemptions, and cost transparency emerged, leading to delays in finalizing agreements.

The City’s exploration of alternative construction methods like Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) faced resistance, ultimately resulting in project stagnation by the end of 2023.

Schneider outlined clarified misconceptions regarding the project:

 • The Benjamins did not donate their land to the City. The land was conditioned upon a meeting of the minds concerning the ballpark construction project.

 • The voter-approved recreational sales tax will be used to build the ballpark project.

 • The bond language was specifically designed to allow for the unknown due to the City’s lack of information at the time of the vote. This fact was made known during the council meeting, which led to the required resolution vote.

 • The voters approved a ballpark project, and it is now required to move forward. Legally, it is mandatory.

 • The City Council and Staff have made every effort to make the project affordable without exceeding the voters’ approval.

 • The Jaycee Complex is not owned by the City; it is owned by Red Willow County. Investing millions of dollars into a complex that is not city-owned creates concerns.

 • At the end of 2023, a determination was made to contact John Walters. The City had worked with him previously on drainage issues and potential sewer improvements and had a good relationship with him.

 • The City has previously been interested in Mr. Walter’s property.

 • The Staff has worked with W Design and Miller & Associates to estimate cost comparisons between the two properties.

• Sewer - $1 million on the Benjamin property compared to $600,000 to the Walters property

• Water - $1.5 million on Benjamin property as opposed to $0 at the Walters property

• Streets - $5.8 million to $6.8 million

• Considering the estimated project cost of $15,000,000, plus the extension projects not included in the original estimate, which total approximately $9 million, the Walters property is much more economical to develop, even if the Benjamin donation does not come to fruition.

• The City demonstrated interest in Mr. Walter’s property when it declared it blighted and substandard in 2019. This made TIF a feasible funding source for new development projects on the site, regardless of whether the City owned it.

• At the beginning of the identification process associated with Benjamin’s ballpark vision, Staff identified Mr. Walters’s property as one of the most desirable locations for development. However, at that time, the property was not listed for sale.

• The sales tax will only be used to purchase that portion of the Walters property that will be developed for a sports complex. The City has uncommitted sales tax funds, unused ARPA funds, reserve funds, and other options to pay for the rest of the land.

Moving forward, the City of McCook is exploring new avenues for the sports complex project, including the potential acquisition of a property owned by John Walters. “Today is an exciting day for McCook, and the City Council and Staff are ecstatic to share this day with you,” Schneider said. 

A live stream of the McCook City Council meeting was shared on Facebook and is still available for viewing on the McCook Gazette Facebook page.

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  • the part I liked best was the map.

    -- Posted by bbens on Thu, May 16, 2024, at 8:19 PM
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