Planning Commissioners in an informal vote Tuesday night found a majority in favor of One Loudoun’s proposed 80,000-square-foot indoor sports center.
One Loudoun’s developer, Miller & Smith, has proposed building the sport center at One Loudoun and handing it over to the county government ready to use. If the county agrees, the developer would proffer the sports center in exchange for rezoning to build to build an additional 685 apartment units, 40 townhouses, and a mini warehouse self-storage facility on its 358-acre property.
The sports center is offered as an alternative to $18.5 million in capital facilities contributions, cash payments which the cost of providing county services to new residents. It would also would substitute for county requirements for developers to provide civic spaces such as libraries, art galleries, museums, churches, or post offices around the new housing.
County planning staff members oppose many aspects of One Loudoun’s rezoning application, including those parts of it relating to the sports center. The sports center, they say, does not meet the definitions either for capital facilities or for civic space, and the sports center’s operating costs could have a big impact in the county budget.
But a straw poll found six of nine commissioners in favor of the proposal, with two opposed and one absent.
“The sportsplex is a force multiplier that this county may never see again if we don’t take this opportunity,” said Commissioner Jim Sisley (At Large). The developer, along with tourism leaders at Visit Loudoun, have argued that the sports center can bring massive tax revenues into the county, offsetting a potential shortfall in operating costs from ticket sales. One Loudoun and Visit Loudoun have cited the Round Rock Sports Center in Round Rock, TX, as an example of what they want to do here. That center operates at a deficit, but the city’s convention and visitors bureau estimated the sports center brought $4.7 million in spending into the city in 2015.
“No one at this table has said that the facility will be hugely lucrative and make a lot of profit,” said Miller & Smith Vice President Bill May. “What’s been represented is that … the wake that comes from this facility, in the [transient occupancy tax], the restaurants, the hotels, the tourist dollars that come from this facility being here, is where the benefit is to the county. Not that anybody who owns and operates this facility is going to be making a windfall.”
“We’re not trying to get out of any capital facilities contributions,” said Cooley LLP partner Colleen Gillis, who represents the developer in its application. “We’re not trying to reduce our commitment. We’re just trying to provide the county as much flexibility as possible to check the boxes for what Loudoun needs to be successful.”
Some commissioners and Parks, Recreation and Open Space Board member Jim Bonfils support the sports center, but say it needs more study.
“I really would like to see some hard analytics behind it,” said Commissioner Fred Jennings (Ashburn). “I don’t think it’s going to fail. I just want to make sure we can avoid some of the pitfalls that will erode the potential profit.”
Chairman Jeff Salmon (Dulles) said the sports center was a good opportunity, and he could support the sports center with a condition that the county could decide, before construction begins, to take the capital impact cash instead.
“I hesitate to say, I can get guaranteed money, or I can get hopefully-pretty-good, we-think-it’s-a-great-idea money,” Salmon said.
May and Visit Loudoun President and CEO Beth Erickson made clear that the idea for the sports center did not come from the developer, but from Visit Loudoun and the county’s Department of Economic Development.
“When they approached me about the possibility of this facility being done in Loudoun, I found it intriguing,” May said. He had joined Erickson and Department of Economic Development Assistant Director Miguel Salinas on a tour of the Round Rock Sports Center.
“When you look at it, revenue and tax revenue follow sports tournaments,” Erickson said. “We need to be able to find a place for that to land here in the county, or we will lose that competitive edge.”
Gillis also made clear that the civic spaces exemption is only in the case of the sports center being approved.
Commissioners Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) and Ad Barnes (Leesburg) said they opposed the sports center.
“I’m against the county owning large public facilities,” Scheel said. Commissioners have worried that government is ill-suited to run a business, although some have recommended contracting the facility’s operations out.
Sisley, Jennings, Salmon, and Commissioners Charlie Douglas (Blue Ridge), Cliff Keirce (Broad Run), and Dan Lloyd (Sterling) expressed tentative support for the sports center in a straw poll. Commissioner Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian) was absent.
One Loudoun’s application was held over for additional review at another commission work session.