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Big League Controversy In Clay County Over Proposed Sports Complex

Big League Dreams

Executives from California-based Big League Dreams are lobbying officials in Clay County to build a multi-sports complex in Middleburg that could cost taxpayers more than $19 million.

The complex would feature five MLB replica parks, a covered sports pavilion, a restaurant, batting cages, and more.

The Clay County Development Authority is currently negotiating a contract with the five member Clay County Board of County Commissioners that would require the commission to pay for the construction of the sports complex, estimated between $19 million and $25 million.

While supporters see the potential for economic stimulus, Clay County Commissioner Ronnie Robinson said taxpayer money should not be used for the ballparks.

"I'm not opposed to Big League Dreams in Clay County," Robinson said. "I'm opposed to the process we're using to put it there."

He said the money should go toward more important things, like paving the hundreds of miles of dirt roads throughout Clay County.

The project started in 2010 as a county commission project when former commissioner, Elijah Cummings, went to the Clay County Development Authority to contract with BLD.

The CCDA wrote a $450,000 check to BLD in Dec, 2011 for an exclusive licensing agreement.

Seven months later, the commissioners became involved. From there, the proposal went to the board's Economic Development Committee, chaired by Cummings and Commissioner Wendell Davis.

Robinson said the CCDA conducted a study that showed, by downsizing the original project from eight fields to five, the complex would be able to support itself financially.

However, Robinson disagrees with the study, saying it hasn't been fully vetted.

He said there are 11 similar complexes across the nation, but he has been unable to see any financial statements from BLD showing how those parks are doing.

"I don't think homework has been done," he said.

There is a four-month extension for the licensing agreement. The existing contract expires Dec. 14.

If the deal is not finalized, the CCDA would be reimbursed for $400,000 of the $450,000 licensing agreement.

Robinson said County Attorney, Mark Scruby, and Commissioner Wendell Davis are working with BLD on a new deal, with the law firm Foley & Lardner representing Clay County throughout the negotiations.

Once complete, the CCDA would own the complex, and would hire Big League Dreams to operate it at no charge and the commission would receive a percentage of profits from the sports complex.

However, Robinson said there will be no tax revenue.

"They'll have to be exempt from ad valorum taxes — or they won't build," he said.

Robinson said that if the proposal was voted on today it would pass 4-1.

You can follow WJCT on Twitter @WJCTJax.