Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill offered rec. complex, programs

The town is in serious negotiations with Leroy Springs and Co. on a proposal that could see the town take over a conglomeration of parks, daycare programs and other services.

"They want to give the town the recreation complex and the services they provide," Town Manager David Hudspeth said of Leroy Springs and Co. during a council workshop Saturday morning. "They want to lease the baseball field, soccer field, tennis court and Banks Street gym."

In addition to that offer - announced last Thursday - Leroy Springs and Co. also wants to give the town other property it owns.

But that's not all.

Town leaders Saturday also discussed a proposal by Springs Industries to have the town lease popular Walter Elisha Park on North White Street. It's where the town has held its Springfest event the last two years. Wisconsin-based Springs Industries used to be part of the Fort Mill-based Springs manufacturing company now known as Springs Global.

Leroy Springs and Co. is a nonprofit entity that is separate from Springs Global, although the two are linked by the family that created both.

A major part of the discussion about the Leroy Springs and Co. offer is how to handle the childcare programs run at the complex.

"A big piece of this is the preschool and FLYERS programs," Hudspeth said. "They've indicated that they'd like to keep that going. I think we would want to take everything."

The proposed recreation complex donation is complimented by a projected 10-year field lease.

"We're making a decision to commit to providing recreational services for prosperity," Mayor Danny Funderburk said.

Councilman Ken Starnes added, "You don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but that's a tremendous expense for the town."

Yet, town leaders said, expenses relative to the plan can be factored into next year's budget as the town works to seal its deal with Leroy Springs and Co., which also manages several golf courses in town and the Anne Springs Close Greenway.

"We're excited," Tim Patterson, Leroy Springs and Co. president and chief executive officer said. "The town has been growing rapidly. We are not in a position to grow our programs. We are just not financially there.

"It's time to turn it over and start working on the greenway and other projects," Patterson added. "We look forward to continuing to partner with the town. Our goal has always been and will continue to be to serve the community."

Although the announcement was made last week, Leroy Springs and Co. and the Town of Fort Mill have been talking for about three weeks, town leaders said.

"We're very grateful that they want to offer the property," Hudspeth said. "Our target day for us to take over the program is Oct. 1.

But assuming the management of the long-established parks and recreation icon is no small feat. Fort Mill currently is running a deficit in its recreation department, and that will only increase with the incorporation of new programs, Hudspeth said.

"You are not going to charge enough fees to pay for the facility," he said. "There are some opportunities for us to change some things and save some money. You need to enter this with your eyes open."

To help ease the transition, Leroy Springs and Co. will contribute $200,000 to help with complex operations over a three-year period. Other revenue is projected to come from complex fees and memberships. In 2008, memberships topped 1,300. As of February, membership sit at 1,399 Patterson said.

"Essentially, the first three years are free with the funding they provide?" Councilman Tom Adams asked.

Not quite, Hudspeth answered.

"I'm not prepared to say that they will cover everything," he said. "It's a leap of faith, going into this. It might require some funding. A lot of this is unknown right now."

Town officials want to know that the fields will be available for a longer period than the 10-year lease Leroy Springs & Co. put on the table.

And there's another issue.

"The fields have gone down," Councilman Waddell Gibson said. "There's going to be a whole lot of maintenance."

The complex is maintained through landscaping contracts in excess of $20,000 a year.

Leroy Springs and Co. officials contend that exterior complex upkeep will be needed over the next three to five years. The list includes resurfacing and fencing the tennis court; removing and pruning trees and removing and repairing sidewalks. That bill could range between $200,000 and $300,000, Hudspeth said.

The complex was built more than 30 years ago.

"How about the building?" Councilman Kerry Mosher asked. "Has it been maintained? Will it need an infusion of cash?"

Over the next three to five years, officials can expect to invest about $100,000 for several cometic upgrades, including pool glass replacement, floor covering for the lobby, fitness room and hall and painting the gym.

"They don't have a fire alarm in the building," Hudspeth said. "It wasn't required when they built the building. They have a bunch of dead trees they want to cut. We may want to cut them all for fields...I think you're looking at half a million [dollars] over the next five years."

The new programs also mean more employees, specifically 22 full time employees and about 70 part timers.

"They wanted us to take all the employees," Hudspeth told the council. "I think that creates some issues for us."

The potential plan also will increase the town's liability insurance if it takes on the recreation complex and daycare programs. It also may fuel customer-related issues.

"We're going to make a whole lot of people angry," he said. "Even things about how we charge them for services; There's going to be some customer service issues that will make their way back to council."

However, when the meeting ended, the council emerged with a consensus.

"We need to precede," Adams said.

On the issue of Walter Elisha Park, Mosher said he's concerned what would happen if Springs Industries can't find a partner to keep it open.

"If we don't enter into the lease, do we have any idea what Springs may do with the park," Mosher asked. "I would hate to see that go away because it's the focal point of our town."

Yet, leaders want more than the proposed two year-lease and plan to rework the proposal with Springs for a longer period.