By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Thursday, November 16, 2017

59f3b498f095f.imageThe latest proposal for 60 acres of the vacant Hargett Farm property is a fully managed and leased 95,000-square-foot swim and sports center and 10-field artificial turf complex.

The proposal, which would cost an estimated $32 million of city money, is one of several options that members of the Westside Regional Park Task Force will consider as they research the best recommendation for the future multi-use park on the roughly 150-acre site along Butterfly Lane.

John Wack, president of Virginia-based Eastern Sports Management, presented details of the proposal to task force members at a meeting Wednesday.

The company develops and manages sports properties along the East Coast, including the Jeff Rouse Swim and Sport Center in Stafford County, Virginia, where subcommittee members are set to conduct a site visit Dec. 1.

Bob Smith, the city’s deputy director of parks and recreation, said the group is in the exploratory phase and considering all options for the park, from development details to funding.

“We are completely open,” Smith said after the meeting. “The task force is exploring all options. … The primary objective is to explore different relationships we could find.”

The task force formed in the spring with a mission to tackle a series of goals, which include completing the park’s design and engineering, overseeing implementation of the approved bubble plan and developing design standards for the park. At the close of their research, group members will make a recommendation to the mayor and Board of Aldermen.

The park is set to come to fruition with both public and private dollars with varying options on the table in terms of management and amenities.

In January, the sitting Board of Aldermen passed a $98.5 million “bubble plan” for the park. The plan includes sections, or bubbles, for amenities such as open space, walking and running trails, sports fields, picnic areas, gardens, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, an indoor pool and a water park. Wack’s proposal is for 60 acres of the total property, which task force members said provides flexibility for the rest of the land. Wack also presented details of other projects the company has completed with a variety of business models. The preferred model for the Hargett Farm property, Wack said, is for the company to design, construct and operate the facilities. The total estimated $35 million construction cost would come primarily from the city, with the company chipping in about $3 million. When construction is completed, Eastern Sports Management would sell the building and field complex back to the city and lease it back for 20 years to operate with rent defined as a split of net cash.

Members questioned Wednesday why the $35 million price is so much lower than the $98.5 million bubble plan cost. Zack Kershner, the city’s director of public works, said the bubble plan includes more amenities such as a stadium, water park, and Department of Public Works maintenance building. The estimate also includes money for internal road construction and for adaptive reuse of historic buildings on the site.

Smith said the task force is also looking into partnering with the Maryland Stadium Authority for funding help on the project. He said other plans and options will also become part of the research materials as the task force continues its mission.

The group was initially given a year to come up with a recommendation, but Smith said Wednesday that members will likely meet for longer than that.

Wednesday’s meeting was the last of the year, with the next meeting set Jan. 17.