Morrisville, Holly Springs lobby for county money for athletic projects

aramos@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2014 

— Officials from Morrisville and Holly Springs lobbied Wake County Commissioners on Monday for money to build athletic complexes. But it’s too early to tell if their words had any effect.

Four projects, including two in Morrisville and Holly Springs, are finalists to receive grant money aimed at boosting tourism in the county.

Morrisville, which is partnering with a private developer, wants $3 million to build an ice-rink complex. Holly Springs asked for $2.8 million for the North Main Athletic Complex, which will include a baseball stadium.

Commissioners will schedule another meeting in the next few weeks to decide which finalists will receive money from the $6 million pot.

So far, only one project seems to have the support of commissioners, a consultant and an advisory board: Naismith Legacy Park, an indoor athletic campus in Knightdale that will center around basketball camps.

The project, which is named after James Naismith, who invented basketball, would be used by the YMCA of the Triangle and the town of Knightdale when camp is not in session.

The camp is expected to result in an average of about 52,000 hotel stays and $12.1 million in total economic impact each year for the next seven years.

Economically, the project would outperform those in Morrisville and Holly Springs.

The Morrisville project is expected to have an annual impact of $4.5 million. The Holly Springs project will likely have an annual economic impact of about $6.8 million and generate 5,100 annual hotel visits a year.

By law, the county can only give the money to projects that boost local hotels and restaurants.

It’s up to county leaders to decide the threshold for meeting this requirement. In the past, they have give tourism money to the Raleigh Convention Center, the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh and the USA Baseball complex in Cary.

“We have limited amount of (one-time) money,” said Commissioner Joe Bryan. “The other projects are clearly not of the significance of the Naismith (park).”

But Bryan said he was impressed with the Morrisville project. The town wants to partner with developer Jeff Ammons to build a 20-acre indoor ice-rink complex with about 1,250 seats.

The site could serve as a practice facility for the Carolina Hurricanes professional hockey team. There would also be space for gymnastics and volleyball tournaments.

“Personally, I was most impressed with Ammons and potential for this project, and I’d like to hear more about that,” Bryan said. “But again, we need to make a decision based on a technical basis.”

There are no amateur hockey facilities in the Triangle that can accommodate more than 300 spectators. The Morrisville facility would help bring hockey tournaments to Wake County, said Ammons, who also owns The Factory, an indoor sports complex in Wake Forest.

Without the $3 million from the county, Ammons said, he wouldn’t be able to add enough seating, parking and restrooms to host tournaments. He said he would likely choose not to build the complex in Morrisville or Wake County.

Meanwhile, the North Main Athletic Complex in Holly Springs is already moving forward. The town hopes the site will host the Coastal Plain League summer collegiate baseball program. Plans include an 1,800-seat stadium and several fields for lacrosse and soccer tournaments.

Commissioners chairman Phil Matthews said the basketball project and the Morrisville ice-rink project were his top two choices. But he said the county doesn’t necessarily need to dole out the entire pot of money.

“There’s no rush to spend the $6 million,” Matthews said. “If one meets the standards, then the rest of it stays right here until another (project) comes up.”

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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