- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Arena funding in limbo
Mar 25, 2005 12:00 am
Major players in the talks to bring an arena and minor league hockey to Lebanon said Tuesday they are hopeful lingering questions regarding a funding strategy for the project will soon be answered.
At the same time, Lebanon Mayor Don Fox – the driving force behind the arena proposal – indicated a significant portion of the project would come in the form of retail businesses, and an events center would be the "focal point" of the development.
"We're trying to have a retail master plan that would be constructed with the events center that will pay for that events center through a tax district," Fox said.
He noted a retail master plan in the works includes five "big box retailers," a retail strip with a dozen specialty shops, an office park and as many as two hotels.
"All of that retail sales tax and the property tax would go to the general funds of the city and the county, as it should. Plus, it would generate occupancy for all of the other existing hotels we have and fill the restaurants," Fox said. "All of this is to say that a hockey team is really – if you put it in order of burners – on the backburner."
Fox said the project's concept was "spawned" by Phoenix-based Global Entertainment Corporation (GEC), which owns the Central Hockey League, but he added the project had "grown to the point that this could just be a large retail master plan whose focal point would be an events center."
Still, members of county government and the Wilson County Sports Authority remained focused on a single question regarding the project – who will guarantee the bonds necessary to fund it?
"That's still the big question," Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman said Tuesday. "How much money is (GEC) going to put in, and who is going to secure the bonds?"
Mt. Juliet attorney John Gwin, who represents the Wilson County Sports Authority, said the authority had posed the same question to GEC officials in the past but have yet to receive a response.
A call to Kent Oelkers, who oversees business development projects for GEC, was not returned Tuesday.
"The question gets to be are they (GEC) going to propose something that is identical to what Dover did (with the Nashville Superspeedway) – that being Dover guarantees the bonds and the county can't possibly have any exposure – or are they going to propose something that would conceivably have some exposure?" Gwin asked. "As far as the sports authority is concerned, we do not negotiate and make those contracts … we enforce them."
Gwin noted plans for the facility are still in the "developmental stages" and said he is hopeful more information will become available now that Lebanon and Wilson County leaders have endorsed an amendment to state law adding minor league hockey to a list of professional sports leagues recognized by state law in the collection of sales tax revenue.
State Sen. Mae Beavers, who had requested the proposed amendment receive the approval of the Lebanon City Council and Wilson County Commission, said the bill will now move forward and is slated to appear before a tax subcommittee of the State Senate's Finance Ways & Means Committee.
Fox noted at least one funding strategy for the project is already being prepared.
"We're looking for ways now where the burden of a bond issue could be minimized to the city and to the county by separating them – by looking at the possibility of doing two bond issues, a smaller one for the county and a smaller one for the city," Fox said. "Put together, they would equal whatever it takes."
Fox added although the city could now serve as home to a Central Hockey League franchise, he plans to meet with the project coordinator next week to look at the development on "non-hockey league terms."
"Global Entertainment … is a company that we will negotiate with to contract to manage and promote this events center. They are not the main player. The main players are the City of Lebanon and Wilson County," Fox said. "Global Entertainment with the Central Hockey League as the home tenant is something to be negotiated. The first and foremost priority is to get an events center, and we'll look at different options next week."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.